Last Friday, a judge in Lake County, Illinois granted the petition of 57-year-old Steve Kreuscher to change his name to In God We Trust. His legal first name is now “In God” and his legal last name is “We Trust.”
According to the AP article about this event, Mr. We Trust, a school bus driver and artist, “says the new name symbolizes the help God gave him during tough times and says he can’t wait to begin signing his artwork with the new moniker.”
I don’t know Mr. We Trust and thus can’t even begin to evaluate his motives, but I can appreciate his desire to acknowledge the help that God has given him. We should all want to praise God for his blessings and for his acts of deliverance in our lives, not to mention in the lives of others.
Too many critics hear of something like this and automatically use words like “silly” or “weird” or “extreme.” We probably should give him the benefit of the doubt. This expression of gratitude by Mr. We Trust may be very simple, heart-felt, sincere and genuine.
Still, some questions can be raised.
Primary among them is this one: does this constitute taking the name of the Lord in vain? To take the Lord’s name “in vain” is to treat it as if it is “light” or “of no account.”
We take the Lord’s name in vain when we speak of him as if he is just one of us (think “the man upstairs” or “the big guy”) or when we speak his name carelessly or disrespectfully. The problem with such words is that they reveal an inappropriate irreverence in the way we think about and relate to God.
While Mr. We Trust may well mean to honor and respect God with his new name, it is hard not to conclude that the Lord’s name is being treated pretty lightly when Mr. Trust’s family and friends call him “In God.”
Here’s another problem: Mr. We Trust said that he couldn’t wait to begin signing his art with his new name. When I first read that, I thought, “What a shame. He won’t get the credit he deserves for his work because people will think that ‘In God We Trust’ is a motto and not a name.”
My second thought was, “Well, perhaps here is an appropriate humility that puts trust in God ahead of personal glory.”
But my third and final thought on that subject was, “But you know, when you do something like this and let it be known that you’re doing it or have to explain what you’re doing, then the attention really comes to you and not to God. You have your reward.”
In other words, this attempt to give credit to God will likely turn out to give credit to Mr. We Trust–or if not credit, then at least notoriety.
Finally, here’s hoping that Mr. We Trust’s new name is matched by a life of faith and trust. Again, I’m not saying that it’s not; I’m willing to assume that it is. I’m just saying that I know how people, among whom I am numbered, are.
Sometimes we let mottos or labels or phrases or gimmicks or other public expressions take the place of a true life of faith. Sometimes we allow our willingness to offer public expressions of trust to delude us into thinking that we are in fact faithful when our actual trust level might be quite low.
The life of faith leads us to hard places and to deep commitment and to personal sacrifices that words and other outward expressions may or may not reflect.
I’m all for expressing our trust in God.
But I’m even more for living lives that reflect such trust.
Michael Ruffin is pastor of The Hill Baptist Church in Augusta, Ga. This column is adapted from his blog.
Curriculum editor with Smyth & Helwys Publishing in Macon, Georgia.