The ultimate trusting relationship

In the area of halacha (Jewish law) a situation can arise in which a court might tell a person the following: We cannot force you to pay because your actions caused damage to someone else only in an indirect way, but we want you to know that in the eyes of the heavenly court you are responsible to pay the other person. Only God knows your intentions. Therefore you are not held responsible in the earthly court. However you are responsible in the heavenly court. You are accountable for your actions. Your good intentions were not good enough because you could and should have thought through the ramifications of your actions.

The court cannot hold you responsible for actions that indirectly caused damage. In heaven’s eyes you are responsible for causing damage. You are accountable for impulsively running to help without thinking it through thoroughly. Responsibility is always a function of capability. If you were not capable of thinking you would not be held responsible. God knows that you are capable of working with or around these weaknesses; therefore God expects more of you. Be aware that you can also expect more of yourself.

We can hear this assumption of human responsibility and capability in Jewish law echoed in an entirely different realm – the realm of faith.

What do I picture when I think of trust? If I were to stand blindfolded in the middle of a circle surrounded by trustworthy friends, I could let myself fall, knowing with certainty that someone would catch me. Trust means certainty. What kind of certainty are we talking about? The certainty of safety. I’m certain no harm will come to me if I fall.

Is this how I go through life? Will someone be there to catch me no matter what kind of crazy stunts I do? Do I only need to snap my fingers and receive whatever I want done?

Frankl describes “a basic trust in life” In doing so he poses the following question: Would an ape used to develop an antibiotic medicine and for this reason endured repeated punctures ever be able to grasp the meaning of its suffering? The group agreed that only man is capable of grasping the meaning of his own suffering. Then Frankl asked: Couldn’t there be yet another dimension in which the ultimate meaning of human suffering would find an answer that surpasses finite human intellect right now? He concludes that we could not live without this basic trust in ultimate meaning.

The trust Frankl is describing is not a certainty concerning outcomes. There is no guarantee that everything will always go my way. Trust is a certainty of meaning. We may choose to think life is haphazard and meaningless or we may trust that our life has a meaning and we’re continuously guided towards that meaning. The question is: What do you believe?

The prospect of living with uncertainty is frightening to us and we assuage ourselves with a false sense of security. We delude ourselves into thinking that

a) we are all-powerful,

b) we are free to do as we please without worrying about the consequence of our actions and

c) all that matters is good intentions; if we cause all kinds of damage on the way that’s “okay.” This engenders a false feeling of safety and security.

The feeling of security is false because

a) my accomplishments are not actually a result of my power,

b) what I do actually does matter and

c) I can’t be smug about my “good intentions.” Shedding my false sense of security and believing in the truth of my situation leads me to true trust in God.

How, in an essential way is true trust in God different from the false sense of security that comes from the deadening effects of the existential vacuum created when God is removed from the picture? Genuine trust means the ability to say to God: No matter what happens, I know You have my good in mind. I am loved and am guided to become whom I’m meant to become in this world. Even though I am uncertain of outcomes I am certain about God’s love, God’s guidance and God’s power.

What about the second aspect of trust? For a child, trust lies in knowing he or she is precious and cared for. As the child matures, trust gradually comes to include responsibility. God is entrusting me to do whatever I’m called upon to do. What I do matters, and I am accountable. The first aspect of trust is that I can rely on God. The second aspect is that God can rely on me.

The third aspect of any trusting relationship is intimacy. God knows me better than I know myself. God created me. On the other hand even when it comes to understanding myself my own capacity for understanding is limited, Built into this intimacy is the hard truth that we cannot hide from God.

Isn’t this what intimacy is all about? What better indication is there of hiding than running away? The test of the relationship is our willingness to expose ourselves.

This is not the false security that feigns certainty in outcomes. It’s the certainty of knowing that my accomplishments come through God’s power, that there is a consequence to my actions and that even with my shortcomings I can expect more of myself.

At this juncture let us go back to the case of exemption in the eyes of the earthly court and responsibility for payment in the eyes of the heavenly court. The earthly court only holds the person responsible for what he actually did. Only God knows the full extent of the responsibility. I may not even be fully aware of my own intentions. Even assuming I was attempting to save the farmer’s property my good intentions were not good enough to be free of responsibility in God’s eyes. I needed the forethought to consider that I will in effect be causing this person a loss.

Similarly the third aspect of belief in God includes the assumption of God’s knowledge of me. God knows my subconscious thoughts, my weaknesses and my strengths. God’s knowledge goes beyond that. God doesn’t only see me for who I am now but as the person I could become. As Frankl says, If we take people as they are, we make them worse. If we treat them as if they were what they ought to be, we help them to become what they are capable of becoming. (p. 8, p. 90) In the divine-human relationship there can be no hiding. I stand vulnerable before God knowing that He knows me better than I know myself.

This is not the false security that feigns certainty in outcomes. This is the certainty of knowing that my accomplishments come through God’s power, the realization that there are consequences to my actions and understanding that even with my shortcomings I can expect more of myself.

What is the point of intersection between the realms of halacha and faith? Halacha reveals our relationship with God as a relationship of trust. The truth of my intentions is known to my self and God; this is the intimacy of the heavenly court.

The judgment can only come from God, who knows my intentions better than the human court and better than I know my own intentions. My impulsivity in trying to save the day did more harm than good. God understands my impulsivity and what it led to; God knows I meant well; God also knows I could have avoided this mistake by thinking clearly. God holds me responsible only if and when I could have avoided it. I cannot hide before God who knows even my subconscious thoughts.

The same existential experience of vulnerability pertains in my stance of trust. If I internalize the belief that God sees my weaknesses and knows my potential, then I will learn to look at myself not just as I am now but as the person I am capable of becoming.

Humility, responsibility, realism

The first two aspects of trust in God are manifested in humility (“Not by my might…”) and responsibility (“The world was created for me,” “It depends on me…”). The third aspect shows realism and honesty. Someone might follow the ruling of the earthly court because there is no way of escaping it. Someone who follows the ruling of the heavenly court is willing to be vulnerable before the One who knows him intimately.

Reliance, trustworthiness, vulnerability

In a trusting relationship I rely on God who is all-powerful. If He could create the world He can certainly help me right now. For whatever reason I cannot be certain of receiving the assistance I seek, yet I can be certain that whatever I do in the world, I do not accomplish on my own.

In a trusting relationship I make myself trustworthy. I answer the call of my mission and task to fill my unique space in the world. With the understanding that I am precious in God’s eyes I know that what I do matters. I take responsibility for the consequence of my actions.

In a trusting relationship I stand vulnerable and exposed before God who knows me better than I know myself. I cannot hide my weakness nor will I try to hide them. This does not mean that I have to be hard on myself. Just as God knows my flaws but also knows my potential I am willing to acknowledge my flaws and reach for my potential. For these reasons I am highly accountable before the One who created me, this one all-encompassing relationship that encompasses all relationships.

Halacha informs the meaning of our relationship with God as a relationship of trust. We trust in the system of the Jewish court that enforces only as far as the extent of its knowledge and in the area of action. We trust in the heavenly court that demands accountability as far as the all-knowing extent of God’s knowledge. This is the intimacy of the heavenly court.

However our relationship with God is all-encompassing. Not only am I vulnerable before God who knows my intentions and holds me accountable for my behavior. I am vulnerable before God who knows and loves me and demands more of me, knowing who I am capable of becoming.


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