Reciprocal Faithfulness

I don’t know about you, but the last line of this snippet from Paul’s Second Letter to Timothy always bothered me: This saying is trustworthy: If we have died with him we shall also live with him; if we persevere, we shall also reign with him. But if we deny him he will deny us. If we are unfaithful, he remains faithful, for he cannot deny himself. [2Tim 2:11-13] [1]

The first part reads like Contract 101; we do this, God does that. We have two positives with Him: if we die, we live and, if we persevere, we reign. These are followed by a negative, but still within the realm of reciprocal logic: if we deny Him, He denies us…all this Jesus had said Himself. [See Mt 24:9,13; 10:33] So far, so good. I mean, I have to die, persevere to the end and not deny Him but the reward is life eternal and reigning with Him in heaven. Tit for tat, right….?

But then we come to the final phrase in which God throws us a curve ball. Contractually, poetically and linguistically, it does not follow the nice pattern set by the others: If we are unfaithful, he remains faithful, for he cannot deny himself. [2Tim 2:13] God just doesn’t want to fit into our nice mold!   He is what He is and that’s that…and we can like it or lump it, it ain’t gonna change.

So what are we dealing with here? What is this faithfulness and why is it so intrinsic, so essential, to God that He cannot deny it, cannot separate His very nature from it. I mean, when we are dealing with God, we are dealing with He who is all-powerful, all-knowing, who created everything from absolutely nothing, simply by thinking and willing. I mean, He’s God, after all; “Is anything too hard for the LORD?” [Gen 18:14] We assume the phrase: “I can’t” doesn’t exist in God’s vocabulary.

Yet, in spite of fact that most mysteries with which God confronts us are resolved by being both/and, by folding one opposite into the other, by making a circle of the spectrum, e.g. Divine and human, died and lives, bread and body, there are the opposites to God’s very essence as God which, though they can be stated, like a round square, cannot be true. For example, God cannot have an end, either dimensionally or temporally. Other examples, fortunately for us, God cannot be un-loving, unjust or un-merciful; it is against his nature as God. He cannot be what He is not.

So, according to St. Paul, we have to throw faithfulness into that impossible list. According to him, God would have to deny, go against His very nature to be unfaithful. His very Being demands that He is ever faithful, that He is His Word. He not only stands by the Truth, He is Truth itself. He is unchangeable, immutable. Truth is truth, what is, what was, what will be, always and forever; you neither change nor have an end. [Ps 102:27] Thus, like it or not, it is He who keeps faith forever. [Ps 146:6]

Paul expands on this in Romans: What if some were unfaithful? Will their infidelity nullify the fidelity of God? Of course not! God must be true, though every human being is a liar, as it is written: “That you may be justified in your words, and conquer when you are judged.”[2] [Rom 3:3-4] Again, he ties it into Truth, truth in His judgment of you and me. We will judge Him, evaluate whether or not He is a God of His Word, and, in the end, we will have to concede that He always abides by the Truth, is the Truth, judges by the Truth. There is no getting around it.

So, to what is God faithful? He is faithful, He abides by, adheres to everything He ever said to me. We witness this from the beginning, from his first order: You are free to eat from any of the trees of the garden except the tree of knowledge of good and evil. From that tree you shall not eat; when you eat from it you shall die. [Gen 2:16-17]

God does not threaten; He promises. And when He promises, He states facts. When He utters this curse: I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and hers; they will strike at your head, while you strike at their heel, [Gen 3:15] this will happen.

When Jesus’ promises: Amen, amen, I say to you, whoever hears my word and believes in the one who sent me has eternal life and will not come to condemnation, but has passed from death to life, [Jn 5:24] if we listen to Him and believe in Him, we definitely, positively, will have eternal life, guaranteed. The same with all Jesus’ other statements: Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him on the last day. [Jn 6:54]

It is this hope of eternal life that God, who does not lie, promised before time began. [Titus 1:2] It is this to which The LORD is righteous [just/lawful] in all his ways, and faithful [truthful] in all his works. [Ps 145:17]

I mean, let’s face it: Is God one to speak and not act, to decree and not bring it to pass? [Num 23:19] If He is, then we’re in BIG trouble. But, the testimony of witnesses throughout the whole of Salvation History adamantly shout: “NO WAY!” Even creation itself, by the fact that He brought it into being, sustains it, nourishes it, encourages it to flourish, even creation declares with every wisp of cloud and bellow of bull, “NO WAY!”

God, in Jesus, is not only a “man of His Word,” but the Father is a God of His Word. So You, God, not only talk the talk, but walk the walk. Your Word surrounds us with reality. You both tell us in what we are to believe, but also You are Him in whom we are to believe. The author of Hebrews stated: Faith is the realization of what is hoped for and evidence of things not seen[3]. [Heb 11:1] You are the substance, the Being, the Reality we hope for. You provide creation as Your own proof, though unseen. You say to us: Go out and stand on the mountain before the LORD; the LORD will pass by. There was a strong and violent wind rending the mountains and crushing rocks before the LORD—but the LORD was not in the wind; after the wind, an earthquake—but the LORD was not in the earthquake; after the earthquake, fire—but the LORD was not in the fire; after the fire, a light silent sound, [1Kgs 19:11-12] mysterious, ungraspable, contradictory, a both/and: a silent sound, before whom we, like Elijah must hide our faces in our cloaks and go out and stand at the entrance of the cave of the world before You, LORD. [See 1Kgs 19:13]

In turn, You call me to walk the walk, to walk by faith, not by sight.[2Cor 5:7] But you know me! you know when I sit and stand; you understand my thoughts from afar….with all my ways you are familiar. Even before a word is on my tongue, LORD, you know it all.[Ps 139:2-4] That’s what makes me afraid. You know my vacillating commitment to You, God! On and off…hot and cold…Yes and no. I turn my will and my life over to You because I know that I am addicted to control and that You are in charge and have a plan for me and care for me and love me and want me to be with You and reach my greatest happiness…but in the next breath, I grab control back and go off and do what I want to do, when I want to do it, joining Sinatra in the chorus, belting out to the top of my lungs: “I’ll do it my way!”

That’s, of course, until I, like the Apostles get caught in the storms of life, so that my boat was being swamped by waves. I can’t believe You’re there, just calmly sleeping while I see the world is going to hell in a hand basket. I scream to the top of my lungs: “Lord, save me! I’m perishing!”

And what happens? You save me, and You rebuke me: Why are you terrified, O you of little faith? [Mt 8:24-26] What gives? Can’t You see I was frightened out of my wits? …But perhaps that is the very point. You do see that I was scared and You know, not just believe but know, that it is not necessary. You empathize with the adrenalin rush, the tax on my heart. You want me to know that the Father is always in charge, always knows what He is doing, always has my best interests at heart, always, always, always loves me with an unconditional love, the same love with which He loves the rest of the chaotic world and He would never, ever let anything happen to me or anybody else on the face of the earth, of which he was not aware, not caring, not concerned, not going to bring to a blessed conclusion.

You even tell us later that we can do it all: I say to you, if you have faith the size of a mustard seed, you will say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move. Nothing will be impossible for you. [Mt 17:20]

Ok, ok, I hear you, unless your faith is firm, you shall not be firm. [Is 7:9] You reassure me that You are faithful and will not let…[me] be tried beyond…[my] strength; but with the trial…[You] will also provide a way out, so that…[I] may be able to bear it. [1Cor 10:13] You assure us that we can hold unwaveringly to our confession that gives us hope, for he who made the promise is trustworthy. [Heb 10:23]

It isn’t easy…we are dealing with evidence of things unseen. [Heb 11:1] The same with hope: in hope we were saved. Now hope that sees for itself is not hope….But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait with endurance.[Rom 8:24-25] However, You know our weakness, our frailty, our finitude. You have given us a reason, proof of why we should believe: since we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast to our confession.[Heb 4:14] You gave us the rock on which the Church is built, and all the storms and violence and evil that Hell itself can throw against it will not budge it. [Mt 16:18] It is on this rock I will build my house, my faith, and I will listen to Your words and act on them and the rains will fall, the floods come, the winds blow and will try to tear my house down But it did not collapse; it had been set solidly on the rock.[Mt 7:24-25] For me, the Lord will be my stronghold; my God will be the rock where I take refuge. [Ps 94:22] “Though storms may pound the securities and loves of our lives, we will not be vanquished. We will triumph through a reciprocal faithfulness.[4]

“Lord, we pray for the grace to feel your presence through our thoughts, circumstances, and moments of love that weave in and out of our day. We know that more times than not, the “feeling” is transitory. And that’s okay…Our life meaning is not advanced by a feeling, but it is anchored in the guarantee of your personal care for every aspect of our lives. To this claim we cling..[5]

“We will triumph through you being there for us and we being there for you.”[6]

[1] Scripture texts in this work are taken from the New American Bible, revised edition © 2010, 1991, 1986, 1970 Confraternity of Christian Doctrine, Washington, D.C. and are used by permission of the copyright owner. All Rights Reserved. No part of the New American Bible may be reproduced in any form without permission in writing from the copyright owner.

[2] This echoes Ps 51: For I know my transgressions; my sin is always before me. Against you, you alone have I sinned; I have done what is evil in your eyes so that you are just in your word, and without reproach in your judgment. Behold, I was born in guilt, in sin my mother conceived me. [Ps 51:5-7]

[3] Faith is the realization…evidence: the author is not attempting a precise definition. There is dispute about the meaning of the Greek words hypostasis and elenchos, here translated realization and evidence, respectively. Hypostasis usually means “substance,” “being” (as translated in Heb 1:3), or “reality” (as translated in Heb 3:14); here it connotes something more subjective, and so realization has been chosen rather than “assurance” (RSV). Elenchos, usually “proof,” is used here in an objective sense and so translated evidence rather than the transferred sense of “(inner) conviction” (RSV). [NABRE note on Heb 11:1] (inner) conviction” (RSV).

[4] The Jesuit Prayer Team, Daily Inspiration: Mk 6: 30-34, JesuitPrayer.org July 19, 2015bid.

[5] Ibid.

[6] Ibid.

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