Trusting God is complicated: Red Letter Year 11/27

John 12.37-50

It’s Complicated by ANTONELLA PAVESE

37 But despite all the miraculous signs Jesus had done, most of the people still did not trust him. 38 This is exactly what Isaiah the prophet had predicted: “Lord, who has trusted our message? To whom has the Lord revealed his powerful arm?”

39 But the people couldn’t trust, for as Isaiah also said,

40 “The Lord has blinded their eyes and hardened their hearts — so that their eyes cannot see, and their hearts cannot understand, and they cannot turn to me and have me heal them.”

41 Isaiah was referring to Jesus when he said this, because he saw the future and spoke of the Messiah’s glory. 42 Many people did trust him, however, including some of the Jewish leaders. But they wouldn’t admit it for fear that the Pharisees would expel them from the synagogue. 43 For they loved human praise more than the praise of God.

44 Jesus shouted to the crowds, “If you trust me, you are trusting not only me, but also God who sent me. 45 For when you see me, you are seeing the one who sent me. 46 I have come as a light to shine in this dark world, so that all who put their trust in me will no longer remain in the dark. 47 I will not judge those who hear me but don’t obey me, for I have come to save the world and not to judge it. 48 But all who reject me and my message will be judged on the day of judgment by the truth I have spoken. 49 I don’t speak on my own authority. The Father who sent me has commanded me what to say and how to say it. 50 And I know his commands lead to eternal life; so I say whatever the Father tells me to say.”


Trusting God is complicated. I think that’s the main takeaway here. Despite all the miracles, some people did not trust Jesus. Isaiah predicted that would happen and further predicted that God would actively prevent some from trusting (there really is no other way to read that second quote). Doesn’t that seem harsh and unfair? John is quick to point out that many did trust Jesus, though some did so secretly because they were afraid. But doesn’t fear indicate a lack of trust? Jesus caps his public ministry off by shouting at the crowd about trust, light and darkness, and judgment. Was that supposed to be some sort of altar call? Like I said, complicated.

But it also rings true to how we see faith working in our lives. Some people won’t trust God no matter what evidence or argument you set in front of them. More than that, no one is able to trust God until – and to the extent – that God enables that person to trust. As much as I want to push back against our individualized culture, there is still a primary aspect of each person’s relationship with God that is personal, one-on-one, and that relationship always begins with God, who relates to each of us and moves each of us as is best for us. Never one to be insecure, God often takes the long view in these relationships, letting it flow at a pace that is best for us. In the Hebrew Scriptures, we see a good example of this with Nebuchadnezzar, who took a circuitous route in his relationship to God. We’re so harsh on each other (and ourselves) that we read this harshness into God. Even here, the fear of people getting kicked out of the synagogue sounds like an indictment to us. But have you thought about how hard it is to be willing to give up every single member of your family and all of your culture to follow Jesus? Sometimes it comes to that, but it’s hard, and can take time to trust enough to have the courage it takes to do such a thing.

And the truth is, this is where we all are. We only trust to the extent that God has enabled us (and not an ounce further) and even then we are beset with fears, self-interests, petty complaints, and a variety of other trust-inhibiting foibles. We see this most clearly in what Jesus shouts there at the end, where he makes the direct connection between trust and obedience. This is why we have not been using the word “believe” in our John readings, because we think believing something is one thing, while doing something about it is something else. For Jesus, they are one and the same. The person who trusts is the person who obeys. Once we think of it like that, and think about how far we have to go in really being obedient to this radical life of discipleship Jesus has called us to, then we realize how we’re right there with the not-trusting, barely-trusting, totally-depending-on-God-to-be-trusting people this passage talks about.

Like I said – trusting God is complicated. And in a wonderful moment of serendipity, just as I finished writing this, my cousin Kimberly sent me a link to a poem she just posted that says all this much more eloquently. You should click here and read “To do a thing.”

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible. New Living Translation copyright© 1996, 2004, 2007 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale HousePublishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.