In order to explain how people depended on God and how we are to do the same today, the explanation deserves more than a one-word answer like “trust”. However, it doesn’t take long to observe that for some, a greater explanation seems taxing. The reason for this is because when things get complicated like life can, it’s easier, to not think about something for too long or at all if you cannot change it(There seems to be wisdom in this somewhere). Yet, the reason why those things which can change, don’t change, is because of the lack of understanding and will. It is, therefore, easier to exhort someone to depend on God than it is to understand the difficulty which can come with understanding what it means to depend on God. For instance, how does a person’s dependence on God require us to depend on others? Or how could God provide for Adam sufficiently unless He gave him Eve?
We need to address the important questions which arise with teaching dependence on God. Therefore, we must recognise how important this is, not only for what people understand but what they experience as well. To do this, I want to affirm here at the beginning that “God will provide” (Gen 22:8), however, learning this truth will take us and it already has for so many, through a great deal of testing, just like it did with Abraham, who uttered these words.
Epidemic and the life of Christ
In 165AD Marcus Aurelius, Emperor of the Roman Empire witnessed an epidemic which spread throughout the Roman Empire. It lasted for fifteen years. At that time Christians were highlighted because of their charity towards others, a charity that had its roots in the humanity of Christ and His ministry as witnessed by His disciples and others. Christ obeyed the will of the Father and His life was a testimony to that fact, He came to serve and not to be served. Christ though he was rich, (for everything was created through Him and for Him) became poor that we through His poverty might become rich (1 Cor 9). If we are to understand what it means to depend on God then we must understand the humanity of Christ and how He depended on His Father during His ministry on earth.
A century later, Emperor Julian in 362AD believed and promoted that pagans needed to equal the charity accomplished by the Christians. Christianity was highlighted by its charity towards fellows Christians and pagans within the Roman Empire. “Julian’s testimony also supported the claim that pagan communities did not match Christian levels of benevolence during the epidemic” (Rodney Stark, The Rise of Christianity, Ch 4, pg84). On observing the influence that Christians were having, Julian, decided to compete rather than support, “Thus, a century later Emperor Julian launched a campaign to institute pagan charities in an effort to match the Christians” (Rodney Stark, The Rise of Christianity, Ch 4, pg83). His campaign to start pagan charities to match and we would assume to exceed that of the Christians was a move for greater influence. Though his form of charity benefited the people it seemed to be motivated by self-interest and preservation at least in the area of influence over the people.
If we were to compare the charity as explained and applied by Jesus and that of Julian, we would clearly see the difference, most notably in the case of Julian’s form of Charity, we have the absence of God and the presence of idols. Christian charity is founded on the character and works of God in His creation, founded on the truth received by faith that God will provide. Idols, on the other hand, provide nothing. They are trusted in but they cannot care for their devotees, they have not lived and therefore are unable to sympathise with the weaknesses of the people. They do not see or feel and so the struggles and suffering which the people endure cannot be understood. Idols, like the welfare state, assert an image of being able. The welfare state whilst providing for its citizens, do so only because of those citizens who are productive. In recent times it has been easy to see how the Church’s influence has declined in society as the welfare state increased. It is equally easy to see how the Church is given more attention as it steps into society at times of crisis.
Addressing the Community
In the book of James, we hear the warning to those who pursue their separate interests, rather than reflecting Christ. He teaches on the importance of looking after widows and orphans, and they should know that they are to trust God, but here we begin to see the connection between trusting and depending on God being connected to depending on others. James, warns the rich businessmen that their knowledge of tomorrow is insufficient to master it for the purpose of proceeding unhindered. To the landowners, he addresses how their misconduct has a social effect, it affects the whole community and how their possessions will be the evidence against them in the courtroom of God when they face the Lord, who is the judge of all.
The idea, that all Christians were good at charity does not fit with the New Testament. We only have to take a look at Paul’s letters to the Corinthians and his exhortation to them that they would willingly give as Jesus Himself did for them. That they would follow His example. But why is this necessary if we are all to depend on God? It’s because our dependence on God is linked to our dependence on each other. Therefore, the church suffers when followers are not like Christ.
The Self, the State and the Church
Depending on God must never become a dependence on people directly, but His provisions are connected and related through the community we are in. We do not want our trust in God to be replaced by greater trust in people, thus making brothers and sisters in the faith into idols. Neither do we want to do this with the State, trusting in politicians and the decisions they make for our future well being, for as we see in the book of James, their decisions will have their social impact for the good and the bad.
Those who strive for a dependence on God which looks more like self-sufficiency with regular tithing may find it difficult to emulate the behaviour of those followers of Christ in Acts chapter four. Given the needs of this newly formed community (the Church), they did not consider what they had was their own but common to all men. Those lives which were more like the life of Christ acted in the same way as Christ. Therefore, one of the main issues with this self-sufficiency in some followers, is that it treats the community of Gods people more like a bag of marbles than a bunch of grapes, in both cases, they are together, but the grapes are joined, whereas the marbles are merely located in the same place. The difference will be noticed in how these people depend on God and how they understand that their dependence on God is connected to their dependence on each other. The church is the body of Christ and therefore a disconnected dependence, disconnected from brothers and sisters in the faith whilst confessing dependence on God is foreign to what we know of the body of Christ in the Scriptures. The Church was not created to be like a bag of marbles, but rather like a bunch of grapes.
Producers, contributions and lazy (adult) dependents
The words of Paul in Thessalonians are strong and necessary. They do not overlook the distinction between producers and contributions (we should all recognise that there is a distinction between a farmer who produces a crop, a family business that makes a profit and those roles which serve others but which do not make money or profit). Not all contributions by all the people in the church will produce an income, but all are to contribute and those who do not contribute should not benefit from the contributions of others”… If anyone is not willing to work, let him not eat. For we hear that some among you walk in idleness, not busy at work, but busybodies. Now, such persons, we command and encourage in the Lord Jesus Christ to do their work quietly and to earn their own living.” (2 Thess 3:10-12).
A reason for why dependence on God is difficult
Our dependence on God is indirectly a dependence on people since God provides through His people to His people. Yet, as we see in the book of James, those who do not live as Christ will no doubt benefit from others in the church but who provide no benefit for others. Since we the Church are commanded to look after widows and orphans, and yet in many cases, this has become the role of Government. We should see how this is indirectly teaching Christians that they don’t have to depend on God through His people because the Government will take care of such concerns connected to being a widow or orphan.
Since the Church is not without sin and followers of Jesus don’t imitate Him as they should, and therefore the servant ministry of Jesus is not reflected in the people. It becomes easy to see why self-sufficiency with regular tithing is more noticeable than everyone selling what they had willingly so that they can give to those who have needs. For, lurking in the back of our minds is the thought, will these people do the same for me if I fall on hard times. Therefore, because we notice different levels of contribution and commitments, and we can experience the tiredness of serving without the experience of being served, we end up protecting our own investments and pursuits in life, which we acquire through being self-sufficient. Depending on God is difficult because of the indirect connection it has to depending on others in the faith, especially when we know that in so many cases the contributions vary and the commitments are weak.
After this current crisis is over (Covid-19) and before the next one occurs (not that I am desiring one, but history has a way of repeating itself), the church may not be fit for such a task. It’s not that the Church will be rendered useless but that the connection between going to church and being the church will be tested at a greater level, especially in all areas of life connected to poverty and joblessness.
God guides His people, whilst allowing us to walk in the freedom He gave us, even when this works its way out in unforeseen consequences, like when we become the cause of our own suffering or the cause of someone else’s suffering. The church is a body and not a collection of independently moving parts. “God allows this freedom even when it becomes alienated and counterproductive…when freedom is abused, its consequences must be lived with” (Thomas C Oden, Classic Christianity, The work of God, Pg158).
Christ-like not socialism
Willing obedience, as Paul taught the Corinthians is desired and expected in the Church, since He (Christ) who was rich, became poor that we might become rich. The church is motivated by the grace of God and our willingness or lack of it is the evidence of our faithfulness or unfaithfulness to God. It is the evidence of whether or not we are like Christ and how much more we are to change. God provides for us by enabling us to provide for ourselves, however, God also provides for us by using others and the abilities He has given them. A father is not a mother, A mother is not a father, not everyone is a doctor, a dentist, a carpenter, lawyer or banker (not sure about these two!), but this is how God provides for His people. Our dependence on God is indirectly linked to a dependence on each other, but our dependence on each other will not be the basis of our trust in God, however much we are shaped by trusting in others.
How do I depend on God?
We depend on God by trusting Him, whilst living in a Christ-like community of followers and recognising that not all provisions are of the material kind. God gave His church, teachers, elders and evangelists, encouraged hospitality and voluntary giving. This we must do and at the same time recognise that this dependence and trust in God can be severely tested because no follower of Christ is exactly like Him. Therefore, we must pray not only for our own maturity but for the maturity of others, we are not a collection of independent people, rather we are the body of Christ and being Christlike is what it’s all about. Dependence of God is made easier in a fellowship who follow Jesus wholeheartedly and much harder when this isn’t the case because our dependence on God is indirectly linked to our dependence on others.