It must have been tough to be an ancient Greek—especially if you were religious. Not only did you have to sacrifice to a number of different gods, but you never knew for sure what these gods were going to do.
Unlike Yahweh, the God of Israel, Zeus and his companions were a fickle lot. They could just as easily strike you down with the plague as reward you with long life and good health, and it had little to do with how well you behaved or how many sacrifices you made. You were in constant fear of angering one god or another. And even if you didn’t do anything personally, there was still the threat that a fight might break out between two gods, resulting in a flood, an earthquake, or some other natural disaster.
How different it was for the people of Israel! They worshipped a God who had created everything out of nothing, a God who ruled over all creation and who was not in contest with other gods or goddesses. He was the one true God, who never changed and whose covenant with Israel was everlasting, literally written in stone.
A Faithful God. This belief that God was unchanging lies behind the Israelites’ ability to trust in God. You couldn’t really “trust” Zeus or Poseidon because you never knew what they were going to do next. But you could definitely trust in Yahweh, because he was completely faithful. You could trust him also, because he revealed himself a being “abounding in love and fidelity, continuing his love for a thousand generations” (Exodus 34:6-7). Not only does God never change; he is a good and loving God, a God of compassion and mercy. This is the God who has covenanted himself to his people. This is the God who has called us out of the darkness of slavery and brought us into a land of promise and blessing.
God has spoken; he has promised. He will not change his mind; his purpose is fixed forever. If he were to act now in any way that goes against his past promises, it would make him false, a liar. It would make him “not-God.”
As for us, whenever we deny God or turn away from his commandments, when we think or act in any way that doubts God’s abundant blessings upon us, we confirm a basic truth about our humanity. We “prove” that we are sinners. God is faithful, but we are unfaithful. We shift and adapt our thoughts and actions to suit our immediate goals. We are not like the eternal, perfect, unchanging One who reigns on high.
But the good news of the gospel is that we, the unstable, unfaithful ones, can become like God, the faithful and true One! We are not trapped; we are redeemed! In fact, God delights in reshaping our character so that we can reflect his goodness and perfection more and more each day!
The Justice of the Cross. There is another important dimension to God’s faithfulness, and that is his justice. They may seem like two unrelated aspects of who God is, but they are closely connected. Whenever Scripture talks about the justice of God, it is connected to his faithfulness. God is just because he is consistent. He is just because he is always true to who he is and what he has promised. God would be unjust if he failed to fulfill a promise he made. If God ever changed his mind, it would mean that he was imperfect, that he went back on his word. To reverse course like this would indeed be an unthinkable injustice.
But God is just! He is faithful! Even in the face of humanity’s repeated unfaithfulness, God remained faithful to his promises. When our first parents disobeyed, he promised a savior (Genesis 3:15), and from that moment on, he saw to the fulfillment of his promise. Through Abraham, he called a people to himself (17:4-8). Even though this people turned to worship false gods (2 Kings 22:1520), God remained faithful and promised to restore them (Jeremiah 31:33-34,38-40). He remained true to his word—to the point, even, of sending his own Son to overcome the injustice of our sins.
God’s justice—his faithfulness to his promises—shines the brightest in the cross and resurrection of Jesus. Above everything else God has ever done, the cross shows us a God who does not change, a God who paid the highest price just to purify his people from sin and unite them to himself in love. Jesus maintained a steadfast commitment to the Father’s plan, even though it cost him his own life. Faithful to all his promises, God raised his Son from the dead, and through him, offers all of us freedom from sin and death.
Justice has been done! But it wasn’t the false justice of an angry god taking out his wrath on his son instead of on us. It wasn’t the unsatisfying sense of “vindication” that we might get from exacting cruel revenge upon our enemies. No, it was the justice of a faithful God. It was the justice of a God whom we can rely on in every possible situation.
Faith in the Faithful One. These truths about God’s faithfulness in the Scriptures can seem remote from our everyday lives. We live in complex and confusing times when trust is rare and truth is questioned at every turn. But this is precisely where faith comes in. The writer of the Letter to the Hebrews defined faith as “the realization of what is hoped for and evidence of things not seen” (Hebrews 11:1).
Throughout Scripture, we read of men and women whose faith in God defied what seemed to be overwhelming evidence to the contrary—and they were not disappointed. Think about how Moses believed that if he just raised his hands over the Red Sea the entire people of Israel would be saved from Pharaoh’s army. Think about Anna and Simeon waiting all those years for the Messiah—and not even knowing what he would look like! Think, too, about Mary saying yes to the angel’s offer to conceive the Son of God in her immaculate womb.
We can also think about the people who placed their faith in something other than the Lord and his promises. They may have started out relying only on their human logic, but in the end they succumbed to deception, self-centeredness, and vengeance. People like King Saul, who was overcome by jealousy; or David, whose lust opened the door to murder; or Jezebel, whose desire for power and influence inspired a massive persecution against all the prophets of the Lord.
We too will face challenges that test our faith. When these situations arise, our best response is to hold fast to the truths of God: his love, his wisdom, his faithfulness, and his justice. Our best strategy is to face these challenges using all of the tools at our disposal: our natural tools of logic, experience, and imagination; and our supernatural tools of faith, the promises of Scripture, and the teachings of the church.
Resolving Our Unfaithfulness. It should be clear by now that, for all our talk about God’s faithfulness, we are still sinners. We still have to deal with our unfaithfulness. Sin is an affront to God, and he will not ignore it. But we need to be careful when we start thinking about things like the wrath of God and his punishments. We are not saying that God gets angry and that he sits in proud satisfaction once he has exacted vengeance upon an evildoer. Rather, we need to see that whenever we sin, we separate ourselves from God. And if we hold on to our sin and fail to repent and change, we simply cannot remain in his presence. God doesn’t visit a furious punishment upon us; we have turned our backs on him, and we are reaping the consequences of our actions. Truth and falsehood are mutually exclusive.
This is why Jesus opened his arms on the cross: to free us from the power of sin so that we can learn to become faithful. Jesus relied on God’s faithful love, even when he was sorely tempted and faced with the agony of the cross, but he held fast. And now, having redeemed us by that very same cross, he has blazed a trail that each of us must follow: a trail of trust, faithfulness, and surrender.
Jesus wants all of us to place our faith in him. He wants us to come to him for salvation and even more important, for the gift of his Holy Spirit. For it is through the Spirit that we can find the power we need to become holy as Jesus is holy—to become faithful as he is faithful.
Make God Firm. Lent is fast approaching. As we get ready for this season of grace, let’s ask the Holy Spirit to open our hearts and minds to understand our heavenly Father more fully. Let’s take the attributes we have studied in these articles and make them the foundation for our faith. We really can come to know who God is, so let’s seek out his love and mercy, his wisdom and goodness, his faithfulness and justice every day. Let’s ask the Spirit to reveal to us the greatness of our God and the emptiness of sin. Let’s all ask for the grace to turn from darkness and enter into the glorious light of Christ. United with all his people, let’s trust that God, who has carried us this far, loves us and will lead us into his kingdom.