“In God We Trust” first appeared on US coins in 1864, a time when our nation was devastated by the Civil War and desperately in need of spiritual sustenance. On July 11, 1955, President Eisenhower signed a bill requiring that the motto appear on US coins and currency. In 2019, a bill was signed requiring all South Dakota public schools to display “In God We Trust” in a prominent place where students will likely see it.
But what does it mean to trust in God? If I’m expected to trust – meaning have confidence in the character, strength, and truth of someone or something – I need to understand that someone or something. We may agree that God represents a deity or supreme being, but there’s a lot of variation from that point on. Quoting Enlightenment philosopher Voltaire, “If you wish to converse with me, define your terms.”
My concept of God stems from my childhood and the church where I grew up surrounded by good friends from school and caring Sunday School teachers. Hanging in the church hallway was a lovely picture of a Jesus figure with long hair and a kind smile in a beautiful, sunny meadow with adorable children and cute lambs. That became a comforting visual of God for me.
I didn’t think too much about that painting that has provided me the image of a God I could trust until I heard someone describe statues of Buddha as having a combination of male and female characteristics. That got me thinking. My Jesus/God image is not a burly guy with machismo, or an old, bearded king judging me from the sky. My God lives in nature and is gentle and nurturing.
Hindus have many images of the Divine. The Hindu Triumvirate is composed of three divine couples, male and female. They represent different aspects of our existence and are to be trusted to assist with a variety of human needs.
Chinese religion offers the yin and the yang, which represents complementary forces such as the feminine and masculine, dark and light, hot and cold. No force is superior to the other, but they need to be in balance to create harmony.
The Muslim word for God is Allah. Allah has no gender. Muslims believe gender is a human trait and Allah, who is beyond human, therefore has no gender. Pictures and statues of human figures are avoided to prevent idolatry, so mosques contain beautiful calligraphy, floral motifs, and geometric designs.
I especially appreciate one of the indigenous names for the Divine, Wakan Tanka, which can be translated as the “Great Mystery,” because the concept of God is mystifying and impossible for the human mind to fully comprehend. “Mother Earth” and “Father Sun” are often visuals for people who live close to nature.
Our mental images of God help us relate to, or feel connected to, a power that is vast, abstract, and eternal. Concepts of the divine vary because we need a vision we can personally relate to – a God we can trust.
My mom had to deal with breast cancer that metastasized and was very painful. She lived with it for many years, and she found comfort and strength in angels. She had a wonderful collection of angels in different sizes and shapes but all conveyed love and compassion. Mom has passed away and I wish I’d asked her more questions about her faith. I treasure the angels she left behind.
Visuals are powerful because of the feelings and emotions they invoke in us. One woman I interviewed for my forgiveness research loved the image of Guan Yin, Goddess of Mercy, Buddhist bodhisattva of compassion. She said, “Isn’t she beautiful? Such a kind lady.” That image guided her as she aspired to become a more compassionate, forgiving person.
Another woman I know who’d been abused by her husband had a strong connection with Jesus’s mother, Mary. She was a devout Catholic so made sure I knew she, “worshipped God, not Mary.” We’re trained to value hierarchy and know we can get in trouble if we don’t acknowledge power. But it was Mary who filled her heart and soul with love and peace.
When people tell me they don’t trust in God, their reasons often are something like this: “If there was a God, he wouldn’t let bad things happen to good people.” Some people personify God as a “he” with superpowers – like Santa Claus. He’s supposed to bestow requested gifts on the good people and lumps of coal on the naughty ones.
Some people don’t trust God because so many wars and hurtful acts are justified through religion. I hear, “Religion is why we have so much hate in the world.” Some people’s God appears as a fear-mongering politician or a military general who wants us to line up on one side or another of a human-conceived battlefield.
As we grow older, we can start to think of the Divine in more abstract ways, but we may still need to obtain inspiration through a visual image that provides us peace and joy. I believe God is Love, but how do I visualize love?
Love is an abstract concept, and sometimes I need a picture in my mind to comfort and encourage me while praying and seeking guidance. It may be a scene from nature, an image of the Divine, an adorable animal, an inspirational person.
Our God concept evokes our feelings, guides our thinking, and affects our behavior, so it’s important to reflect upon whether our personal idea of the Divine is one we can trust. What leads you to loving kindness, gives you courage, shields you from fear, and provides comfort and hope when life is tough?
People envision God in various ways, and I don’t trust in everyone’s concept of God. I do, however, trust in the Fruit of the Spirit – meaning the power of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.
I hope the God you trust strengthens your character, brings you peace, and empowers you with the fruit of the Spirit.
Photo by Raimond Klavins on Unsplash