In 1864 the motto “In God We Trust” was approved by Congress for use on all one-cent and two-cent coins. During this time our nation was in a civil war and it was hoped the change would boost the morale of Union troops. It worked.
In later years congress approved the use of the motto on all coins and then in 1955, during the height of the cold war against Russia, it was approved for use on paper money, too.
“In God We Trust” has remained our national motto to this day despite several court challenges from those saying it violates the constitution’s prohibition against establishing a religion. Interestingly, the challenges have all been prevented with successful arguments that the motto doesn’t establish a religion because it is more of a secular statement than a religious one.
For example, its appearance on the dollar bill next to an Egyptian pyramid, all-seeing eye, and several other weird symbols, seems to suggest that “god” in a pluralistic sense is being referred to rather than the God of the Bible.
But even if we assume that the Christian God is being referred to, I think it is safe to say we have not lived up to our motto as a nation. We are a religious nation with many faiths and many gods but the god we trust in the most is the god of mankind, not the God of the Bible.
This is the same problem God saw in the Israelites.
Trusting in Man
In Jeremiah 17:5 this is what the Lord says…
Cursed is the person who trusts in mankind. He makes human flesh his strength, and his heart turns from the Lord.
Trusting in mankind means not just trusting in people but trusting in technology, finances, medicine, government, the military, or any other aspect of human culture.
So, do we trust in God? Not really. If we did then why do so many of us get upset when our technology, finances, medicine, government, or military let us down? What we get angry about says a lot about what we are really trusting in.
“In God We Trust” is a nice slogan but it isn’t very descriptive of Americans. More and more we are getting angry at those around us. We are organizing with good intentions but the results speak for themselves as we become a nation less united than ever. A more accurate motto would be “In Self We Trust.”
And the same was true for God’s people in the Bible. When Israel demanded a king, built up a huge army, collected census data not authorized by God, it wasn’t an indication of trust in God but a sign they were trusting in themselves.
Jeremiah tells us not to trust in ourselves because it brings a curse.
Consequences for Trusting in Man
Three things happen to those who trust in themselves. The first is loneliness.
Jeremiah 17:6 says of the person who trusts in mankind…
He will be like a juniper in the Arabah; he cannot see when good comes but dwells in the parched places in the wilderness, in a salt land where no one lives.
A juniper is a bush that sits low to the ground. It doesn’t grow very tall because it doesn’t receive much nourishment. It sits alone in the desert with few resources and when disaster comes it’s not likely to survive.
So, you see, trusting in ourselves isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. In the end, we are left all alone to die in the desert.
Secondly, trusting in ourselves results in Poverty.
Jeremiah 17:11 says,
He who makes a fortune unjustly is like a partridge that hatches eggs it didn’t lay. In the middle of his life his riches will abandon him, so in the end he will be a fool.
A person who gets rich dishonestly is very likely to see it all vanish in an instant. He’ll be like a bird that steals the eggs of other birds, hatches them, but gets no benefit because when the chicks hear the voice of their true mother they abandon what’s false and return to their true home.
The point is that when a person trusts in deceit, which is an example of doing things our own way, all we get is poverty.
Thirdly, death is the final result.
Jeremiah 17:13 says,
Lord, the hope of Israel, all who abandon you will be put to shame. All who turn away from me will be written in the dirt, for they have abandoned the Lord, the fountain of living water.
Everyone who abandons God to trust in themselves or in anything other than God will be ultimately forgotten when they die. Their names will not be written in the eternal book of life but in dirt that just blows away in the wind.
So trusting in ourselves, even if we have a good national motto about trusting in God, only leads to curses.
Instead, Trust in the Lord
Jeremiah 17:7–8 says,
The person who trusts in the Lord, whose confidence indeed is the Lord, is blessed. He will be like a tree planted by water: it sends its roots out toward a stream, it doesn’t fear when heat comes, and its foliage remains green. It will not worry in a year of drought or cease producing fruit.
What is trust? When we trust in something or someone we rely on them. Trust is having confidence that what we trust in will meet our needs.
This kind of trust is like when a sick person trusts in a doctor to make them well or when a person with money trusts his financial advisor to make them a profit. The relationship is one of reliance. So trust is relying or depending on something or someone to give us what we need.
And one of the most important things everyone needs is to feel loved and valued. But when we put this kind of ultimate trust in things, or in other people, all we’re going to get is loneliness, poverty, and death. We will be like that lone bush in the desert.
However, a person who trusts in the Lord is like a tree planted by the water—a tree that has a constant source of water and will never become parched in a heatwave. It will stay green when it’s hot. Even when the bush in the desert dies, the tree planted by the water will live on.
Jeremiah uses himself as a personal example of this kind of trust in verses 15 and 16.
Jeremiah 17:15–16 says,
Hear how they keep challenging me, “Where is the word of the Lord? Let it come!” But I have not run away from being your shepherd, and I have not longed for the fatal day. You know my words were spoken in your presence.
Because Jeremiah was connected to living water and trusting in God he didn’t run away from his responsibilities as shepherd even when those he preached to made fun of him. Sometimes he complained but he didn’t quit. He stayed close to God, put his trust in the Lord, and kept speaking the truth.
This is a reminder to us, especially when we feel spiritually dry, to keep pressing on. Don’t stop praying, reading our Bibles, and worshiping with God’s people when you feel overwhelmed. And if we have strayed, don’t wait until a desire to do these things returns. Don’t wait for the timing to be just right before coming back to the spring for a drink.
Keep trusting in God. Stay connected to Him by praying, reading your Bible, and coming to church even when we aren’t “feeling it”. God will refresh us in time. Keep trusting. Don’t leave the water’s edge but stay connected to Jesus.
Jesus made this point in John 7:37–38…
On the last and most important day of the festival, Jesus stood up and cried out, “If anyone is thirsty, let him come to me and drink. The one who believes in me, as the Scripture has said, will have streams of living water flow from deep within him.”
But these wise words are easier said than done because we have deceitful hearts.
Our Deceitful Heart
Since we’re celebrating July 4th today, let’s talk about our deceitful hearts in the context of freedom for a moment.
As Americans, we love freedom and we are celebrating freedom this very Independence Day. But what are we truly free to do? Are we free to choose whatever we desire? Yes, but are we free to choose what we don’t desire? No, not really because the essence of free will is the ability to choose that which we want.
See, in regards to the freedom to choose righteousness, we are unable to do so because it isn’t what we naturally want. So, while we have freedom, we are not free to choose that which goes against our nature. For example, we aren’t free to change our nature by declaring “I’m only going to desire what is good from now on” any more than Christ is free to declare “I’m only going to desire what is evil from now on.”
Jeremiah 17:9 says it this way,
The heart is more deceitful than anything else, and incurable—who can understand it?
According to Scripture, more than anything else, and that’s a long list, the human heart can’t be trusted. It’s devious and unable to change. It’s incurable.
Sin and the Fall of Adam have left us with the inability to choose to trust God. That’s why we can make good mottos but still live like hypocrites. We don’t naturally desire to trust in God. None of us do.
Instead, we are sinful through and through and there is no part of the human person that is unaffected by sin. Our emotions, our desires, our thoughts, our hearts are all corrupt.
And with that established fact, Jeremiah 17:10 is terrifying:
I, the Lord, examine the mind, I test the heart to give to each according to his way, according to what his actions deserve.
See, if God examines every person’s mind and heart and then rewards us according to what he finds, what hope is there for us? None, except in Christ!
So, freedom, in a free-will sense, is really a curse because without Christ we are really only free to choose to sin which brings judgment upon us, a judgment that we all deserve.
So do we see why it makes no sense to trust in mankind, in ourselves, or in anything other than God? Of course, we are free to trust in what we want but in the end, what we want only brings loneliness, poverty, and death.
The only thing we can do about it is to cry out for mercy— this is what Jeremiah did in verse 14:
Heal me, Lord, and I will be healed; save me, and I will be saved, for you are my praise.
Humanly speaking our hearts are incurable but God can cure us. So, in Christ we trust. He is our only hope.
Our national motto may be “In God We Trust”, but I don’t think that goes far enough because people in this country worship all kinds of gods, especially the god of self. Could you imagine what would happen if our national motto was changed to “In Christ We Trust?” People would go crazy because it’s too exclusive, so don’t put your hope in a motto.
But what we need is to trust in Christ, himself, because only Christ can change our hearts. We can’t cure them on our own.
In Acts 16:14, there was...
A God-fearing woman named Lydia, a dealer in purple cloth from the city of Thyatira, was listening. The Lord opened her heart to respond to what Paul was saying.
Who opened her heart to be able to respond? The Lord did.
Has God opened your heart? If yes, then be like a tree planted next to the streams of living water and grow.
If no, then pray as Jeremiah did, “Heal me, LORD, and I will be healed; save me, and I will be saved.” Trust in Christ, whether the world around us does or not, because He’s our only hope.