1. The basis of all human relationship: faith (trust) and faithfulness (loyalty)
“If men no longer have faith in each other,” one modern theologian once asked, “can they exist as men?” At the base of this question is the assumption that human beings exist in connection with one another in faith, or covenant; that faith and faithfulness, or loyalty, is at the root of all relationships; and that if human beings, and particularly if Christians, fail to trust each other, and to act in faithfulness to each other, they will cease being Christians and even worse, will cease being human.
All relationships—whether between God and human beings or human beings with one another—operate on faith and faithfulness, or trust and loyalty. We can only have relationship when we trust the other to be loyal to us and when we reciprocate that loyalty. Once that faith, that trust, is broken by faithlessness or disloyalty, then relationship becomes difficult, if not impossible.
What is the nature of keeping faith and exercising loyalty? How are Christians to keep faith and exercise loyalty in a world that does not embody faithfulness but faithlessness?
Even in our beginning steps into this world of faith, we run into road blocks. For “faith” is a word which is very much like “nice” and “grace” and “holy”—it is a word which we use all the time, but have not a clue what it really means.
Even in Scripture, the closest thing we come to a definition seems to be no definition at all: “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen” (Hebrews 11.1).
The nineteenth-century Scottish divine, John Brown of Edinburgh, said of this verse, “I have always felt it difficult to attach distinct ideas to these English words.” Certainly Brown’s words could be uttered by many of us. For at bottom, there are not many things in this world that we are absolutely sure of; and we are particularly skeptical of those things we cannot see. Thomas is the patron saint for most of us.
And so, in order to illustrate what he means, the writer of Hebrews reminds his readers of stories which illustrate his definition:
Abraham obeying the voice of God, leaving his homeland, going to a land which he did not know, believing the promises of God concerning a son, and then willingly offering that son to God, all the time believing that God could raise the dead;
Moses, a special child, being protected by his parents, refusing to be called to son of Pharoah’s daughter, suffering with his people for Christ’s sake, keeping the Passover when the “destroyer” was killing firstborn children all over Egypt, passing through the Red Sea on dry land;
and finally, Jesus, not clinging to those things which could have easily entangled him, running our race, gaining our salvation in the Crucifixion event, and counting death on the cross a joy and not a shame.
Certainly other figures are mentioned in that eleventh chapter of Hebrews—but the main three figures stand out clear: Abraham the Promise-Receiver, Moses the Law-Giver, Jesus the Gracious Redeemer. These three teach us of faith.
And ultimately Abraham and Moses and Jesus’ faith all rested on the promises of God—they believed that God, who made many promises, would in fact keep those promises. The reason they believed this was because they knew God’s character—they knew that God is just and merciful and gracious and truthful and faithful. As a result, they knew that when God made promises God would keep them.
Yet, Abraham and Moses and Jesus’ faith did not stop simply at believing God would keep promises; they acted on that trust. They displayed faithfulness and they displayed it in action, often actions which were based directly on those promises.
Abraham is promised a place which he would received as an inheritance—he believes God and goes to find it, living in tents as an alien in a foreign country.
God promises Moses that God would deliver the people of God, and that Moses would play a starring role—Moses believes God, against his better judgment, and confronts his countrymen and Pharaoh and the wilderness.
Jesus is promised that not only would he die for his people’s sins but that he would be raised to life again—he believes God, scorns death, and willingly goes to the Cross.
Faith that acts is alive and is genuine; faith that sleeps, that does nothing, is dead and is false. In short, faith trusts God to keep God’s promises and acts accordingly.
If the nature of faith toward God is to trust God to keep God’s promises and to act in faithful response to God, then does it not stand to reason that human faith finds its basis in trusting other human beings to keep their promises and to act in faithfulness toward them?
I think so. Faith which stands at the basis of our relationships with one another—our friendships, marriages, churches and societies—demands faithfulness, it demands faith and fidelity. In truth, this trust and responsive faithfulness is absolutely vital for relationships to function normally. Marriages which excuse unfaithfulness by one or both spouses generally do not last long;
parent-child relationships which are characterized by unfaithful dealing and resentful distrust are termed “dysfunctional”; congregations which cannot trust their ministers and begin to act in unfaithfulness by failing to attend to the Word and Supper and disciplinary fellowship will soon be putting the “for sale” sign outside their sanctuaries; and societies which sow the seeds of dishonesty, greed, and cynicism born of distrust and infidelity will begin to implode.