I just finished reading Thomas D. Williams’ book, Can God Be Trusted: Finding Faith in Troubled Times, which was sent to me by the Hachette Book Group. I was intrigued by the title and thus was anxious to read it. I think there are some things the book does quite well and others that I did not find satisfying.
I liked a great deal the first segment of the book, several chapters grouped under the heading, Why Trust Matters. I think the author does a good job distinguishing trust from things that looks like trust but are different (such as optimism and hope), talking about the qualities and components of trustworthiness (qualities such as competence, good will, truthfulness and moral integrity) and discussing those things that tend to be rivals for God with us when it comes to trust, that is, those things other than God that we tend to put our reliance into (wealth, education, ideology, etc.). Other parts of the book are also quite well done, such as the author’s discussion of what it means to trust in God. There are also some beautiful lines in the book about poverty of spirit and what we learn from the psalms.
Less satisfying, I thought, was the author’s attempt to demonstrate why God is worthy of our trust. Having earlier identified the qualities or components of trustworthiness, the author tried to persuade that God has all of these qualities. Unfortunately this chapter reads like a choppy series of assertions. I reacted to it the way I often react to “proofs” of the existence of God – completely unnecessary for those who already trust God and completely unpersuasive to those who don’t already have trust.
The other issues that disappointed me relate to the discussion of why people have trouble trusting God. After talking about some general ways our moral state affects our willingness to trust in God, the author tackles particular situations that make trust in God harder. While the things he chooses to address, such as the inability to find the right marriage partner, the inability of couples to conceive a child, are doubtless trying to some people, they don’t strike me as among the most difficult hurdles people face in life. And when the author talks about people being let down by God, his focus is on the experience of desolation one has when God seems absent, but in the context of people like Mother Teresa, who are already deeply convinced of God’s presence. I found myself wondering, how does any of this help those people who have faced incredible suffering without anything to give them assurance of God? How does this help those abused as children, those who have suffered for years from deep physical or mental handicaps, develop trust in God. There didn’t seem much, if anything, addressed to those things that make it hardest for people to trust God. That seems to me a serious omission in a book like this. Still, there was much worth reflecting on and I am glad to have had the opportunity to read the book.