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  • Luigi Gioia

Trusting In God

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Countless motets have rivalled to convey the soothing power of one of the most celebrated sentences of the book of Psalms: Bonum est confidere in Domino,[1] which literally means ‘It is good to trust in the Lord’, but could be rendered as “Nothing gives us greater peace, joy, comfort, hope than trusting in the Lord, taking refuge in him, and him alone”. There is a blessing that rewards this attitude: Blessed are those who take refuge in him,[2] that is “Blessed are those who experience God’s consolation”.

This is why the Psalmist never wearies of declaring his trust in the Lord, whatever the circumstances: In you, Lord my God, I put my trust. I trust in you; do not let me be put to shame, nor let my enemies triumph over me. Guard my life and rescue me; do not let me be put to shame, for I take refuge in you.[3]

When his foot is slipping, when anxiety is great within him, unremittingly he looks for support in the unfailing love of God.[4] When his spirit grows faint within him, he cries to the Lord and says: You are my refuge, my portion in the Land of the living.[5] He knows he can count on God’s graciousness: Have mercy on me, my God, have mercy on me, for in you I take refuge. I will take refuge in the shadow of your wings until the disaster has passed.[6]

Disaster, afflictions, anxiety, all the small and big miseries of our life become powerless to afflict us. This does not mean that prayer insulates us from pain or discomfort. On the contrary, in the gospel Jesus’ glory shines best when he is troubled, moved, distressed and crucified. If anything, the more we are introduced into God’s compassionate love, the more we become sensitive to the pain and suffering of the world around us. But prayer opens a space in us where we can process any affliction by casting it upon the Lord and taking refuge in him: bonum est confidere in Domino, “It is good to trust in the Lord” - good in the sense of soothing, comforting, pacifying.

The surprising thing is that far from being a hindrance to taking refuge in the Lord, our growing awareness of how hopeless we are makes it easier. ‘Hopeless’ sounds unnecessarily or suspiciously self-deprecatory and indeed we should learn how to see the bright side of things and especially of our endeavours. And yet, we shall never completely escape the sad and depressing sensation that we achieve precious little in our lives and that motives and outcomes of that little are dubious and precarious.

These are the moments, however, when we might be surprised to discover that one thing at least survives, endures, and proves to be an unassailable rock, a safe haven, a place of refuge– namely this trust in the Lord alone, in him above everything else, in spite of everything else.

Prayer then becomes just this: a marvelling at this strange ability which unexpectedly we uncover in us - the ability, that is, to find rest in God or, as some translations beautifully put it, to wait in silence for God: My soul waits in silence for God alone; from him is my salvation. He only is my rock and my salvation, my stronghold, I shall never be shaken.[7] The author of this Psalm goes on to list all the miseries of his life, not to complain however, but to share his wonder at discovering himself free and able to find rest in the midst of turmoil just by turning to the Lord: Find rest, O my soul, in God alone; my hope comes from him. He alone is my rock and my salvation, he is my fortress, I shall not be shaken.[8]

A sibylline sentence at the end of the Psalm explains this trust: One thing God has spoken, two things I have heard: that you, O God, are strong, and that you, O Lord, are loving.[9] We seem to rely on God’s strength, but deep down we trust him because we are touched by his love. Or, we could say, God is indeed strong, but strong of a love that opts for powerlessness, for vulnerability, for changing history not through spectacular interventions but through spreading invisible seeds and then waiting for them to sprout, grow and eventually yield their fruit.

The consolation we draw from trusting God is not based on the expectation of dramatic instantaneous changes – although sometimes they do happen, sometimes God does act immediately and decisively. Even in these cases however, taking refuge in God includes trusting that in whichever way he acts, whether by intervening straight away or waiting or even not doing anything, he is loving. What we trust in is this love. And this is the real miracle. This is the pearl we are surprised to discover in the field of our prayer.

We might fail in everything else or, more likely, be found wanting in everything else, and yet mysteriously, still be able to utter something as pure, uncontaminated, authentic, beautiful as this sentence: You are my Lord and I have no good apart from you.[10] That we should say this and feel it and know it is true: this is a consolation, this gives us joy, this is the source of our peace. This finds a remarkable echo in a sentence put on Peter’s lips in John’s gospel: Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.[11]

This is the pearl that prayer produces and the consolation out of which prayer lives: the deep certainty that God is our only true, lasting, reliable, unfailing good. We are no longer tempted to run after other gods because even at night our heart instructs us. I like to interpret this ‘night’ as the silent contemplative prayer that teaches us how to set the Lord always before us. Because he is at our right hand, we shall not be shaken.[12]

[1] Cf. Psalm 118.8 in the Latin Vulgate. [2] Psalm 2.12. [3] Psalm 25.1,20. [4]Cf. Psalm 94.18f. [5] Psalm 142.3,5. [6] Psalm 57.1. [7] Psalm 62.1. [8] Psalm 62.5. [9] Psalm 62.11f. [10] Psalm 16.2. [11] John 6.68. [12] Psalm 16.4,7f.




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