They appear on many of our coins and paper currency. Several states issue motor vehicle license plates bearing the words: “In God We Trust.” It’s a phrase millions across the United States have embraced since the mid-1950s, when Congress adopted it as a national motto.
There are those who vehemently oppose the phrase, claiming a violation of the so-called separation of church and state. But for many of us, “In God we trust” causes no offense. We use the four words easily, sometimes flippantly, whenever it suits us. But do we really mean them?
Of late I’ve been with groups of people, all professing faith in Jesus Christ, discussing recent events – including global terrorism. Several spoke strongly about escalating military activity in the Middle East to combat Islamic extremism. Some expressed their belief in needing to be well-armed personally, both to thwart acts of terror and deter anyone choosing to invade their homes.
Such comments seem understandable. We need to protect ourselves, right? But especially for those who concur with the “in God we trust” declaration, this focus seems concerning. It would appear that in reality, our trust is in military might, government intervention, and weaponry.
The Scriptures present a very different emphasis. Numerous accounts show how Israel – God’s chosen people – prevailed despite formidable odds solely because of divine intervention. As King David wrote, “Some trust in chariots and some in horses, but we trust in the name of the LORD our God” (Psalm 20:7)
David, described as having “a heart after God,” expanded on this perspective in a later psalm: “No king is saved by the size of his army; no warrior escapes by his great strength. A horse is a vain hope for deliverance; despite all its great strength it cannot save. But the eyes of the Lord are on those who fear him, on those whose hope is in his unfailing love, to deliver them from death and keep them alive in famine. We wait in hope for the Lord; he is our help and our shield” (Psalm 33:16-20). In essence, “in God we trust.”
And we find similar sentiment in Proverbs 21:31, written by David’s son, King Solomon: “The horse is made ready for the day of battle, but victory rests with the Lord.”
When I read such statements, I’m tempted to say, “Yeah, but….” I’m not a pacifist, and take pride in knowing my father fought for our country during World War II. But as disciples of Jesus Christ, we’re clearly exhorted in the Bible to place our trust – totally – in God, not in rifles, cannons, tanks, warships, jet fighters, or tried and tested battle strategies.
Those are of little use in opposing what the Scriptures call the real enemy. “For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms” (Ephesians 6:12). The Scriptures tell us that more than terrorists – however they refer to themselves – the real battle is with a spiritual adversary unaffected by bullets and bombs.
As God’s adopted children we’re told not to fear or panic, but to demonstrate with our words and actions that indeed, “in God we trust.” Because Romans 8:38-39 offers this assurance: “For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 8:38-39).
This doesn’t mean God wants us to be unarmed. But His weaponry of choice can’t be purchased in gun stores or sportsman’s warehouses. Here’s what the Lord wants us to employ for the battle that is as much spiritual as it is of “flesh and blood”: “Therefore put on the full armor of God…with the belt of truth…the breastplate of righteousness…the gospel of peace…the shield of faith…the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God. And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests” (Ephesians 6:13-18).
Some people have objected to the classic hymn, “Onward Christian Soldiers,” disliking its combative terminology. But the Bible says the Lord wants us fully armed, although not necessarily with guns and bullets. Are we properly arming ourselves with truth, righteousness, peace, faith, the message of salvation, knowledge of God as revealed in His Word, and prayer?
If we’re not, could it be we’re living in disobedience? Should we stop saying, “In God we trust”?