Faith

Uncommon Thoughts on the Faithfulness of God

May 24, 2017

I saw an Instagram post the other day about something wonderful that happened to a person I do not know, but that I follow on Instagram for reasons I no longer remember. She and her husband were holding a printed-out ultrasound photo and celebrating a baby on the way. Beneath the photo she had written the loveliest caption that ended with “God is faithful.”

I’ve thought about that stranger for days since with a sincere sense of joy for her. But I can’t get that phrase, “God is faithful,” out of my mind.  It has stuck with me, like a splinter poking at a tender place.

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I’ve used that phrase “God is faithful” before,  in the most common way— to subtitle the moments I got exactly what I wanted.   I’ve called God faithful, but what I really meant was that God was cooperating with my well laid plans. Yay, God! He was being faithful to my instructions, my timeline, my preference.

But what about the times of waiting?  What about periods of longing rather than gratification?

It seems, then, that God is faithful, but in a foggier way. As if a hard circumstance is an accidental air bubble in an otherwise coherent experience of satisfaction. Talk of God’s faithfulness is somewhat uncommon under those circumstances. Or if it’s mentioned, it’s with a hint of God’s pending faithfulness. Like, God is about to give you what you really want. Just hold tight for a sec.

To be clear, I’m not questioning whether or not God is faithful in nature. I’m just wondering what God is faithful to, exactly.  My comfort? My welfare?

This question matters when you find yourself in in a lull between high places. When you’re waiting or stuck in between. Because in the suspense before you get what you want or need, is God’s faithfulness on hold?

Or is it possible I’ve just never taken the time to understand what that phrase actually means?

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I’m writing to you from my mom’s kitchen. Because this is where my family and I are living at the moment.

It is awesome because my mom has  a hot tub.

It is less awesome because this is not our house.

Although life is far from hard here, it’s also not settled. There is a prickly unease to the days, a longing for routine, a haziness on how to create it. We are in a season of waiting, sorting through all the pending details that prohibit a place we just moved to from becoming a place we fully live.

Here, in our hometown, there is so much comfort and belonging and familiarity. But there is also a longing for settledness, for certainty. I suppose that longing follows you anywhere, to a new place or old, whether you’re transient in geography or just in heart.

In every location, there exists the desire to have good news to report, a victory to share, a platform on which to shout with a satisfied grin, “God is faithful.”

He is.

Yet in these days of waiting, I find that my most honest prayers are, “God, would you remind me how?”

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I was reading in the book of Lamentations the other day, drawn there by the soaring passage in chapter three: “The faithful love of the LORD never ends! His mercies never cease. Great is his faithfulness; his mercies begin afresh each morning” (verses 22-23).

It’s not often that I read the book of Lamentations, probably because it’s called… lamentations. But I was so encouraged by those verses that I started reading the book from the beginning. And do you know what the book of Lamentations is about?

Lament.

It’s a graphic description of destruction. It’s a eulogy spoken over the undoing of Israel.  And then the book just ends. There is no unlikely-but-wonderful redeeming moment at the end. No feel-good resolution.

It’s sort of like Manchester by the Sea, a movie I regret to have seen in the theater due to the the volume and ferocity of my public sob noises.

In trying to make sense of the mention of the faithfulness of God in a book centered on lament, I read a commentary by Chuck Smith. In it, he said the point of Lamentations was the faithfulness of God, “because God did what he said he would.”

The book of Lamentations is an account of consequences that were forewarned to Israel. So even a terrible patch of history is proof of a good promise:

God is faithful to his word.

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If God’s faithfulness is measured against what he said he would do, it reframes the conversation doesn’t it?

Because over the pages of scripture, I don’t see many points of God promising to give us a life immune from discomfort. But he does promise to save us from our sin, to forgive us completely, to wring out our selfish nature until we begin to reflect him more accurately.

So it seems that tasting the faithfulness of God can actually be a reckoning of sorts, a crucible that exposes impurities you didn’t even know you had. The insecurities. False hope. Inflated entitlement. Because in order to be made like him, we have to recognize—be astonished, even—by all the ways we are not.

Oswald Chambers wrote, “We look at the things that are expressed externally; God looks at the tendency born in us.” Our reassurance of his faithfulness is not always an external victory, a longing fulfilled, a beautiful veneer for our lives. Sometimes it is, but often it’s not.   Yet God is still faithful, working within us on a refined tendency, a kinder nature, a maturity of soul that makes us better. That makes us whole.

God is not only faithful when we arrive at what we’ve been waiting on.

He is faithful because the strain of waiting is not wasted.

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