Unchanging Faithfulness in a Changing World (Sat., Feb. 20)

The word of the day is “faithful.”  Change is the way of the universe, and no one in the world can stop it. The changing of the day and night, the seasons, the tides, the weather; the alterations of society, the generations, governments, economies, fashions, and fortunes; the relentless course of human life from infancy through old age–who of us can arrest the ebbing and flowing of any of these?  Yet among all that exists, there is one who does not change, the eternal God.  And because He was, is, and always will be the same (Hebrews 13:8; James 1:17), He is faithful.  In our reading of 2 Timothy 2:11-19, Paul testifies to this faithfulness.  The Everlasting God remains faithful whether or not we are faithful or unfaithful.  Accordingly, the apostle affirms,  “If we endure, we shall also reign with Him.  If we deny Him He also will deny us.  He remains faithful, He cannot deny Himself” (vs. 13).  What does it mean that God cannot go against Himself?  And what does that mean for us?

The Foundation of God’s Faithfulness

Today’s reading strives to assure us that God is absolutely faithful.  It begins, “This is a faithful saying:…” (vs. 1) and ends, “Nevertheless, the solid foundation of God stands…” vs. 19.  The word translated as faithful comes from the Greek verb “to convince” or “persuade” (Strong’s #3982, 196).  Hence, the term means “trustworthy” and “reliable” (Strong’s 4103, 202).  It refers to what is proven unequivocally The last verse of our reading puts this another way.  The “solid foundation” of the Word of God “stands” (vs. 19)  because it is unmovable and unshakeable.

Paul submits that this trustworthiness of God does not depend on God’s sincerity, will, or purpose.  Neither does it rest in what human persons do.  The Eternal’s faithfulness depends on the very nature of God Himself.  The apostle puts it, “God cannot deny Himself” (vs. 13).  In His divine perfection, God must be true to Himself.   Accordingly, St. John Chrysostom writes that God must be true to His own Being  (NPNF1:13.492).

As a consequence, God remains the same whatever humans do.  Chrysostom writes, “He abideth the same whether we deny Him or not” (NPNF1:13.492).  The preacher asserts that we can deny Him, or we can confess Him, but “He is faithful and unshaken” whatever we say or do (NPNF1:13.492).

God Does Not Contradict Himself

We should recognize the implication of this insight into the faithfulness of God.  Though our denial does not affect the Eternal, it affects us.  We error if we believe that Paul is saying that God’s trustworthiness means that He will remain faithful to us even though we are unfaithful to Him.  That notion cannot stand because it would negate what Paul had just said: “If we deny Him, He will also deny us” (vs. 13).

We should realize that God’s Word is absolutely and eternally true.  In Titus, Paul speaks of “the hope of eternal life which God promised before time began” (Titus 1:2).  God is truth.  He cannot tell an untruth.  If He did, He would reverse Himself.  God does not change in Word or deed.  To alter what He says or does would be to contradict Himself.

This ax is double-sided.  One the one hand, it means we can trust the promise of the Almighty’s goodness as the apostle says in Hebrews, “Let us hold fast to the confession of our hope without wavering, for He who promises is faithful” (Hebrews 10:23).  On the other hand, if his promises are everlasting, His judgements are also  unchanging.

Because God is Unchanging, We Can Trust His Promises

In today’s reading, the Lord promises that those who die with Christ will live with Him (vs. 11).  The verse that follows promises that those who endure suffering for their faith will reign with Christ.  This ensuing verse shows that the apostle is not referring to the spiritual dying of the “old man,” nor the dying and rising with Christ in baptism.  Rather, Paul is speaking of our suffering for the faith which would end in our death.  But Paul proclaims our death would end in God’s gift of eternal life.  And our endurance in trials would result in our reigning with Christ in the Kingdom of God

Our reading demonstrates that these promises are immutable because God is eternally the same.  Therefore, we can trust in the pledges of the everlasting God without reservation.  In the same vein, the writer of Hebrews describes God’s promises as the “anchor of the soul,” both sure and steadfast” (Hebrews 6:19).  We can firmly trust this anchor for it is not fastened to anything in this changing world.  Nor is it fixed on what we say or do.  But this anchor is securely embedded in God’s own being, the divine nature of “steadfast love” (Lamentations 3:22)  and “everlasting mercy” (Psalm 100:5).

God is True to His Promises and His Judgements

On the other hand, the Lord promises with equal consistency that He will deny those who deny Him (vs. 12).  To deny Him means to disown Him (Strong’s #720, 41).   As God is true to His promises, so He is true to His judgments. And He decrees that those who reject Him, God vows to reject.

Does this mean that there is a contradiction between God’s mercies and His judgments?  We find no tension between the two if we understand that God honors the freedom for human beings to choose to respond to Him, either in belief or unbelief.  Once again, the verdict of God is grounded in His being and  nature.  Therefore, though God’s righteous response to his sin humbled him, the Psalmist confessed, “ I know, O Lord, that Your judgments are right, and that in faithfulness You have afflicted me” (119:75).

For Reflection

Today’s study has probed into the foundation of God’s faithfulness. We have found it in God’s own being and nature.  We cannot go much beyond that discernment.  God’s will and ways are beyond understanding.  And who of us can understand His essence, the nature of His being?

Nevertheless, by the Word and Spirit, we know that God is eternal and unchanging.  In our universe of change, He is the only “hope of our soul,” the sole and unmovable Rock in a raging sea of variation and inconstancy.   By His grace, He has revealed Himself as the one to whom we can cling amid all the changes of life.

 

2 comments:

  1. Thank you Fr Basil, “faithful” your keyword of the day, certainly deserves thinking about.

    I used to think that faithful meant a sort of passive loyalty, that God is faithful, but, He does not do much and leaves us to ourselves most of the time.

    …”Yet among all that exists, there is one who does not change, the Eternal God. And because He was, Is, and always will Be the same, He is faithful.”…

    One could interpret – not changing – as someone who does not change because he is static. But, after once I read, that “God does not change – He Is always new!” it made me think, that if He is always “new” He can not be static, He must be always active in His uncreated energy, as in the Greek verb “to convince” or “persuade”.

    Well, this is as far as I got in my thinking – to be always new and at the same time not change, how is that possible? I like to think that He is always present, even when I forget about Him and He is faithfully and constantly, in His gentle way, convincing or persuading me to chose the right path.

    God bless you Father

    1. Dear Sinnika: thank you for your deep thinking into the mystery of God and eternity. God is the Eternal, beyond the categories of time and space, yet including them in Himself. We can distinguish between God’s eternal nature and His works. In terms of His works, He makes all things new. Yet His steadfast love endures forever, for He is love. I appreciate your thoughts. God bless. FR. Basil

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