This week's Chapel podcast is shared by Dr. Kern Stanberry, Assistant Professor of Counselling at Tyndale. Kern continues our summer series in Psalm 9, with a message titled "Knowing Precedes Trusting."
Kern has served as the coordinator of the MDiv Counselling Major Internship program at Tyndale Seminary since 2012 and is also an instructor for the Pre-Internship Counselling Skills Lab course. He has served in managerial, clinical supervisory, and therapist capacities in a number of government funded agencies in the Greater Toronto Area. In 2011 he led the design, development and implementation of an innovative counselling program at Addiction Services for York Region. As the director of Newhope Family Services Inc., he partners with faith-based and community organizations to provide counselling services to individuals, couples and families.
Hello Tyndale Community. It’s an honour to be asked to share a reflection, one of my favourite Psalms, with you, by way of this Chapel podcast. I’ve entitled my reflection “Knowing Precedes Trusting”, which is a reflection on Psalm 9, verses 9 to 10. The key message from this Psalm is that we can only learn to trust God through our experiential knowledge of God.
I like to think of the message from these two verses, found in the middle of this 20-verse psalm of praise (of King David), as giving us three core relationship facts and principles on which a trusting and thriving relationship between God and his covenant people is built. These three relationship principles have been central to my personal understanding and spiritual life journey for decades. Each part of these principles has served to comfort me, increase my faith in God and challenge me to an ever-increasing transformational knowledge of God and of myself.
Psalm 9 begins (verses 1-8) and ends (verses 11-20) with the psalmist offering praise and thanksgiving to God as he reflects on the various ways God has protected him from his enemies and caused his judgments to fall on nations and individuals because of their oppression and wickedness, for which they have not repented. And, in the very midst of this reflective discourse, David pauses and asserts these riveting truths and relationship principles which undergird the life of faith between God and his covenant people! He declares:
“The LORD also will be a refuge and a stronghold for the oppressed, A refuge in times of trouble; And those who know Your name [who have experienced Your precious mercy] will put their confident trust in You, For You, O LORD, have not abandoned those who seek You” (Psalm 9:9-10, AMP).
The psalmist makes three captivating assertions in these two verses:
- The psalmist declares who God is (v.9). This declaration is a fact of the nature of God, irrespective of human understanding of it, belief in it, or acceptance of it (God is “a refuge and a stronghold for the oppressed, A refuge in times of trouble” (v.9 AMP). This fact remains unchangeable and unconditional.
- The psalmist affirmation of the trust-worthy relational nature and character of God is also a fact of God’s unwavering commitment and fidelity in his relationship with his covenant people. This fact is also not dependent on human understanding of it, belief in it, or acceptance of it (God does “not abandoned those who seek [him]” (v.10b, AMP). These two facts: a) God being our refuge and b) his commitment to not abandon those who seek him are self evident truths, whether or not human beings acknowledge, accept or believe these truths – God offers him self to us as such!
- The third assertion, however, is different. It calls us (human beings) to the sobering responsibility of choosing whether to trust God to be our personal refuge and to experience his faithfulness. This third declaration makes it clear that in order to be able to trust God we must first come to know God (or know his name). The Amplified translation (from which I read the text) gives us hints that this idea of knowing God goes beyond a mere informational knowledge about God. It suggests that knowing of God is though relational knowing of who God is (“And those who know Your name [who have experienced Your precious mercy] will put their confident trust in You” v10a, AMP). Our willingness to develop a trusting relationship with God through an experiential “knowing” (not about, but) of God, is what determines if we will then experience God as our refuse and the one who does not abandon us when we seek him.
My reflection on what it means to develop this crucial experiential knowledge of God which must precede our ability to trust God, brings me to the ancient theological principle which holds that the dynamic of coming to this experiential knowledge of God also involves experiencing a corresponding increased knowledge of one’s self! This is a fundamental biblical and Christian spiritual understanding which is illustrated throughout the Bible and held by early Church fathers and Christian theologians for centuries. This understanding, however, has not been strongly carried forward into our contemporary Western evangelical understanding of the spiritual life. This is largely due to our approach to knowledge as an objective cognitive acquisition of information. When this purely objective approach to knowledge is applied to our “knowing” of God, of ourselves and others, we lose the relational dimensions and interactional dynamics inherent in the process of coming to an authentic understanding and consciousness awareness of who God is and of who we are.
Therefore, to truly “know” God’s name as prerequisite to putting our trust in God (v 10b), we must go back to this foundational understanding of knowledge as a relational knowing of God, and self, which involves a dynamic co-operating relational process. In his contemplation and experience of this dynamic process, Thomas Merton (20th century theologian) echoes many examples of this process which can be seen in scripture and has been articulated by St. Augustine, John Calvin and others, when he states “Therefore there is only one problem on which all my existence, my peace and my happiness depend: to discover myself in discovering God. If I find Him I will find myself and if I find my true self I will find Him” (Merton 1961, 38).
Scripture is filled with examples of life-altering transforming faith (trust) in God - that comes through this relational co-operative process of knowing God through knowing self and knowing self through knowing God. In each of these biblical examples, as one encounters the Spirit-revealed knowledge of God’s love, mercy and grace, the Spirit also brings that person to a vivid knowledge of his or her brokenness, sinfulness and desperate need of God’s mercy, forgiveness, and liberation. When this Spirit-led knowledge of God and of self leads one to repentance and surrender to God, this person then comes to an experiential knowing of God which directly leads to increased faith and trust in God at a profoundly personal and relational level (Psalm 9:10a). This knowledge of God and self goes beyond an objective cognitive acquisition of information about God or self.
Let us now look at a few examples of this relational co-operative process of knowing God and self from a few biblical characters:
- King David (2 Samuel 11-12 & Psalm 51): Through the prophet Nathan, God revealed himself to King David and brought David to a vivid knowledge of his sinfulness and wickedness through his acts of adultery (with Bathsheba) and murder (of her husband Uriah). David repented, turned to God and trusted God’s mercy, forgiveness and deliverance.
- Prophet Isaiah (Isaiah 6:1-8): God revealed his glory and majesty to Isaiah, and he became woefully aware of his uncleanness and that of his people. When he turned to God in acknowledgment of his sinful state and repented, God cleanse him, and he faithfully accepted the call as the prophet of God.
- Saul/Paul (Acts 9; Philippians 3; Romans 6): As Jesus revealed himself to Saul on the Damascus Road, he became acutely aware of his own deceptions, depravity, worthlessness and weakness. In his repentance and surrender to Jesus, his faith, confidence and trust in God skyrocketed and he (now Paul) devoted himself to God and became one of the greatest apostles of the Gospel of Christ.
Other examples include Moses (Exe 4:1-17), Mary – the mother of Jesus, (Luke 1; 26-38), the woman with the issue of blood (Mark 5: 25-34), and many others. In encountering the revealed God, each one of these persons also came to an increased knowledge of him or herself. This relational knowing of God, and self, led them to deeper trust in God.
The essential role this dynamic relational and co-operative process of knowing God and self plays, as a prerequisite to developing one’s trust in God, is further illuminated by other Bible characters who, unlike David, Paul, Isaiah and others, refused to acknowledge, accept and surrender their knowledge of themselves to God. Instead of taking responsibility for their sins, trust God and co-operate in God’s offer to be their refuge, these individuals either blamed others, deny the truth of who they are, or walked away from a trusting relationship with God. Two such examples are King Saul (1 Samuel 15: 10-23) and The Rich Young Ruler (Matt 19:16-22; Mark 10:17-22).
At age 13, I knew as many things about God as would be expected from a child who grew up in church. Up to this age, my life consisted of church, school, home, and play. Most of the Bible stories and lessons I learned as a child in Sunday school are etched in my memory. These , however, were only objective cognitive information about God; much like I had from my literacy, mathematics or other academic learnings in school. My knowledge about God was not through the process of a dynamic co-operative and experiential relationship with him. My knowing about God did not coincided with a deeper awareness of myself and, therefore, did not lead to the development of personal faith and trust in God.
This all changed a few weeks before my 14th birthday when God revealed himself to me as a God of love, mercy and grace. I can still vividly remember that, when the Spirit opened my eyes and heart and invited me into a personal relationship with, the God I had only known cognitively about, I was overwhelmed by an acute awareness of my utter sinfulness and helplessness. It was through this experiential encounter with both the knowledge of God and of myself that I first came to trust God as my refuge and the strong hold of my life.
Over the ensuing decades, I have had many other transformational encounters in which God has brought me to greater faith and trust in him through an increased awareness of who he is and a corresponding revelation of specific aspects of who I am. Psalm 9:9-10 has become a blueprint on my spiritual journey as I continue to learn to trust God more as he calls me to deeper experiential knowledge of who he is and of my own weaknesses, sins and need of him.
In our present approach to the Christian spiritual life, we can contentedly ascribe to an objective cognitive knowledge of God and who he declares himself to be (Psalm 9:9 & 10b). However, to truly be able to confidently develop our trust in God requires that we have a deeper experiential knowledge of God through the dynamic relational and co-operative process of knowing God and self, as the Spirit reveals both to us. We have seen through the examples from the Bible that God uses various means to reveal himself, and ourselves, to us (prophets, angels, life circumstances, and so forth). Over the past 15-20 months, COVID-19 pandemic, George Floyd’s murder and the most recent discoveries of unmarked indigenous graves at former residential schools’ sites have all revealed to us many previously ignored, repressed, and normalized brokenness, sins and oppression. As we seek to know God experientially through grappling with what these events have revealed to us about ourselves personally, as the institution of Tyndale University, as a Christian community, as a society and as a nation, I trust that Psalm 9:9-10 will serve as a guide to us as we, like David, Isaiah, Saul (Paul) and many others, acknowledge our failures, sins and wickedness and turn in repentance to the God who declares that He “also will be a refuge and a stronghold for the oppressed, A refuge in times of trouble” (Psalm 9:9 AMP).
— End of transcript —