King Solomon instructs us to “Trust in the Lord with all your heart” (Proverbs 3:5). We find ourselves repeating that mantra in good times and, especially, in bad times. But what exactly does it mean to have trust in God? Are we supposed to believe that everything will turn out all right because God is watching over us? What about the fact that tragedies do happen? On October 7, for example, 1200 people were brutally murdered, hundreds were raped and tortured and 240 were taken as hostages. Clearly, things are not always OK. So what does it mean to trust in God at these times?
In order to answer this question, let us turn to the words of King David in Psalm 27.
David starts this Psalm by stating confidently:
“The LORD is my light and my help; whom should I fear? The LORD is the stronghold of my life, whom should I dread? When evil men assail me to devour my flesh—it is they, my foes and my enemies, who stumble and fall. Should an army besiege me, my heart would have no fear; should war beset me, still would I be confident.” Psalms 27:1-3
David boldly asserts that he does not fear anything or anyone because he knows that God is on his side. He seems to trust in God and believes that no matter what, everything will turn out all right.
Yet as the Pslam continues, his faith seems to waver.
“Hear, O LORD, when I cry aloud; have mercy on me, answer me… Do not hide Your face from me; do not thrust aside Your servant in anger; You have ever been my help. Do not forsake me, do not abandon me, O God, my deliverer.” Psalms 27:7,9
What happened to David’s unyielding trust in God that everything will be fine? Why is he begging God not to hide his face from him, thrust him aside or abandon him? Didn’t he say that he has nothing to fear because God is his light and his salvation?
What are we to learn about trust in God from this seemingly contradictory psalm?
Rabbi Aharon Lichtenstein explained that there are, in fact, two different types of trust in God:
“According to the first approach, trust is expressed by the certainty that God stands at your side and will assist you… This approach is fundamentally optimistic, saturated with faith and with hopeful expectation for the future. On the field of battle, the warrior who can adopt this trust feels that he is on the threshold of victory; in moments of crisis, one feels that salvation is on the way; during a night of terrors, this type of trust heralds the break of dawn. In short, this approach is expressed in the familiar formula, “With God’s help, everything will be all right.”
Rabbi Lichtenstein refers to this first approach as “faithful trust.” This is the kind of trust that David exhibits in the first 3 verses of Psalm 27. But there is another type of trust as well. Rabbi Lichtenstein continues:
”Also included in the matter of trust is that a person must surrender his soul to God, and should constantly occupy his thoughts with this matter: If brigands should come to kill him or to force him to abrogate the Torah, he should prefer to give up his life rather than go against the Torah. Concerning this, David said, “To You, God, I shall offer up my soul” (Psalms 25:1), and it further states, “My God, in You I have trusted, let me not be disgraced” (ibid. 2). One who gives up his life under such circumstances has performed an act of bittachon (trust).
Obviously, this approach has a completely different meaning. It does not attempt to scatter the clouds of misfortune, try to raise expectations, or strive to whitewash a dark future. It does not claim that “It will all work out for the best,” either individually or nationally. On the contrary, it expresses a steadfast commitment— even if the outcome will be bad, we will remain reliant on and connected to God. We will remain faithful until the end and shall not exchange our trust in God for dependence on man. This approach does not claim that God will remain at our side; rather, it asks us to remain at His side.”
This second type of trust Rabbi Lichtenstein calls “loving trust.” It is this kind of trust that David has in the second part of the psalm. He knows that things might not turn out the way he wants them to. David was no stranger to difficulty and misfortune, and he knows that God does sometimes hide his face. Sometimes tragedy strikes. And so he begs God not to abandon him or turn away from him. But at the same time, he recognizes that whatever does happen comes from the Lord. We might not like the outcome, but at least we know that it was divinely ordained. In the words of Rabbi Lichtenstein, we might not feel like God is on our side, nevertheless, we remain on His side. The psalm, therefore, ends with a statement of encouragement: “Look to the LORD; be strong and of good courage! O look to the LORD!” It might require us to be strong and courageous, but we must always put our trust in the Lord.
So what does it mean to trust God? As Rabbi Lichtenstein explains, there are two different types of trust in God and both are necessary. The first type of trust, faithful trust, is the feeling that everything will be OK because God is on my side. This is the type of trust that a soldier feels before going out to battle, or that one has when praying for a loved one who is sick. The soldier can only fight effectively if he is confident that he will prevail, and we can only pray with all of our hearts if we really believe that God wants to heal the person who is ill.
But faithful trust alone is not enough. Because sometimes what we want is not ultimately what is best from God’s perspective. Sometimes, for reasons we can’t understand, God allows for tragedy to strike like he did on October 7th. Sometimes, a brave soldier has to die in battle or a loved one who is sick does not get better. In those moments we need to have loving trust. In those moments we must say as Job said, “Though He may slay me, still I will trust in Him” (Job 13:15). “This,” Rabbi Lichtenstein explains, “expresses the essence of Jewish trust in the face of tragic situations.”
No one encapsulated these two types of trust more than Rabbi Akiva. Rabbi Akiva was one of the greatest Jewish sages of all time and lived during the latter part of the first century and the beginning of the second century. “He was full of faithful trust and optimism, convinced that the Jewish people would be restored to sovereignty and spiritual greatness in their land. In the sound of Bar Kokhba’s advancing footsteps, he heard the approaching herald of messianic redemption. On the other hand, his life was a paradigm of loving trust, for he literally fulfilled the verse in Iyyov, ‘Though He may slay me, still I will trust in Him.'” As he was being tortured to death by the Romans, he rejoiced in the knowledge that he was finally able to fulfill the command to love God “even if He takes away your soul,” and he died reciting the prayer “Hear O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is One (Deuteronomy 6:4).
Rabbi Akiva hoped; he anticipated the best and believed that it would transpire. Yet when this did not come to pass, when faced with a cruel and painful death—in this last, most bitter hour, he smiled. As he explained to Turnus Rufus, the wicked Roman governor, his smile was not an indication of “belittling of suffering,” but rather a sign of great bittachon (trust)”
Throughout our lives, we must continually balance both types of trust in God. The first is a hopeful trust, where we believe that with God’s support, things will turn out well. We believe that God is on our side. This trust gives us strength and optimism, especially in challenging situations. And yet, when things turn out differently than expected, when life doesn’t go as planned and when tragedy strikes, we must strengthen ourselves and our trust in God. In these moments, a different kind of trust, one of acceptance and steadfastness, becomes essential. This ‘loving trust’ means staying faithful to God’s will, even when we don’t understand it. We must remain on God’s side no matter what. To trust in God is not merely to anticipate His blessings in times of joy, but also to remain steadfast and loyal to Him and His divine will, even when the path is shrouded in darkness. Trust in God encompasses both hoping for the best and being at peace with whatever comes our way.