Soliloquy on steadfastness

Recently, a friend of mine told me he decided to end our ties. During this time, I have been realizing something. It’s not as though what he did was unusual. It’s just that he was honest. 

Yet we make these decisions about other people all the time. Albeit unconsciously or implicitly, we still judge others, and still renege on our relationships with them. People who we have already spent time with, bonded with, and developed some level of emotional and/or physical connections. People with whom we have in place responsibilities and commitments.

Our society is characterized by a lack of commitments.

We are so quick to give up on someone when they do something that offends our modern sensibilities, annoys us, or imposes a minor inconvenience on us. Or even when they are a different person with a different personality trait that entails more time and energy to understand that person and build trust.

We act as though we don’t live in a complex web of interconnected relationships and institutions. We think that we can just cut off a single thread without affecting that web. False. We are not individualistic automatons.

A fundamental idea that someone shared with me is that every relationship, as it becomes more and more intimate, entails—as matter of fact and ethics—more and more substantial commitments to each other. In fact, a defining criterion of the quality of a relationship is/should be how committed one is to that person. If your ‘best friend’ is not committed to you, how good of a friend are they to you?

But God

Then my thoughts shifted to the God I believe in, the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, the God of Jesus Christ, a 33-year-old Jewish carpenter crucified by Roman soldiers and then rose again from the dead…

God proclaiming His steadfastness and His faithfulness. In the midst of our utter sin and ugliness before His Holy nature, He never lets us go. Everything about His character is opposed to who and what we are: full of evil. Even as His children, His people, we let Him down again and again. Yet He will never abandon us and even sees the best in us when only the worst exists.

Finding Scripture to support the steadfastness of the LORD is quite a daunting task; steadfastness (“faithfulness”) is one of the most dominant themes in the Bible, and characteristic of God interconnected with His other attributes. Any set of verses attempting to represent the significance of steadfastness in Scripture would do injustice to the proclamation of the LORD’s steadfastness found in other verses. That being said, here are some verses that have spoken to me and continue to do so.

​​He brought him to Jesus. Jesus looked at him and said, “You are Simon the son of John. You shall be called Cephas” (which means Peter).
—John 1:42

But Zion said, “The Lord has forsaken me; my Lord has forgotten me.”  “Can a woman forget her nursing child, that she should have no compassion on the son of her womb? Even these may forget, yet I will not forget you.  Behold, I have engraved you on the palms of my hands; your walls are continually before me.
—Isaiah 49:14–16

For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.
—Romans 8:38–39

If we are faithless, he remains faithful, for he cannot deny himself.
—2 Timothy 2:13

What is so beautiful for each of these verses is the context in which they are placed. Jesus says these words knowing well that Peter will soon deny Christ when He would need him most. Isaiah prophesies to the people of Israel consoling them in a time of fear and doubt during Babylon exile. Paul writes to Roman Christians during the peak of imperial persecution and martyrdom. The last verse is part of a ‘trustworthy saying’ that concludes urges for us to die and endure with Him. Finally, skim through 1 Corinthians 1. God’s everlasting love is tied up with His steadfastness; one does not make sense without the other. The most salient fact about God’s “steadfast love” is that it “endures forever” (Psalm 136).

Looking at it again, one of the most beautiful ways to demonstrate His steadfastness would be the Gospel narrative. What better way to show the enduring nature of His love than to choose a people for Himself and continue to love them amidst their continual sin and rebellion? God sets the standard for dealing with ‘toxic’ people.

Embodying Commitment

Does contemplating the LORD’s steadfastness move us to apathy and passiveness? Au contraire, this knowledge moves us to live radically differently. “Or do you presume on the riches of his kindness and forbearance and patience, not knowing that God’s kindness is meant to lead you to repentance?” (Romans 2:4). The church is called to perseverance, steadfastness, and grit in their faith amidst troubles and tribulation (1 Corinthians 15:58; 1 Thessalonians 1:2–3; Galatians 6:9; Hebrews 10:36).

What would it look like for us to model God’s steadfastness in our relationships and community? Not like jumping from person to person, from church to church. Taking relationships seriously. The deeper you go, the more committed you are. It’s less about comfort, convenience, and efficiency, and more about sacrifice and choosing love. Commitment is meaningless if there are never conflicts; it is when feelings are hurt, relationships damaged, and yet we choose to forgive and love that commitment finds its value—and through it, the love shows (Colossians 3:13–14). Is that not exactly how we represent Christ’s love in a suffering world?

On Idealism

We give up our lofty idealism and our vain imaginations about the ideal community and the ideal friend/brother/lover, instead choosing to love people around us as they are. In doing so we transition from being ‘takers’ to being ‘givers’. 

Theologian and anti-Nazi dissident Bonhoeffer put it best:

“Every human wish dream that is injected into the Christian community is a hindrance to genuine community and must be banished if genuine community is to survive. He who loves his dream of a community more than the Christian community itself becomes a destroyer of the latter, even though his personal intentions may be ever so honest and earnest and sacrificial.

“God hates visionary dreaming; it makes the dreamer proud and pretentious. The man who fashions a visionary ideal of community demands that it be realized by God, by others, and by himself. He enters the community of Christians with his demands, sets up his own law, and judges the brethren and God Himself accordingly. He stands adamant, a living reproach to all others in the circle of brethren. He acts as if he is the creator of the Christian community, as if his dream binds men together. When things do not go his way, he calls the effort a failure. When his ideal picture is destroyed, he sees the community going to smash. So he becomes, first an accuser of his brethren, then an accuser of God, and finally the despairing accuser of himself.” [1]

Notice that the test of the existence of visionary dreaming is when the reality fails and does not match up to the dream.

As an idealist myself, this is a tough pill to swallow and a lesson to learn. It’s not even that things must be perfect—only God’s laws are perfect; it’s that things must be a particular way. Which ends up being completely arbitrary. We must repeat and ingest the refrain Not my will, but thine, be done.

Immature christian thinking is: I have a vision of the new world that I believe God wants me to build, so I’m going to go off by myself and build it. If the plans fall through and it fails, I give up on it. It’s not worth it! As soon as my church, nonprofit, support or friend group disappoints me and falls short of my utopian vision, they are ‘unbiblical’ and unworthy of my love.

Mature christian thinking is: I am a believer saved by grace. I am a messed up person and yet God didn’t give up on me. I have a vision of the new world God is calling me to help build, yet even when people, plans, and projects fall through, I don’t give up on them. Even when institutions fail, we are all unworthy of God’s love, most of all myself, and by staying committed I represent God’s steadfast nature.

When the sun had gone down and it was dark, behold, a smoking fire pot and a flaming torch passed between these pieces
—Genesis 15:17

Read the whole chapter of Genesis. What a beautiful metaphor of the Lord’s steadfastness and faithfulness. Abram fell asleep. He never fulfilled his part of the covenant in which he passes through the pieces—he failed to commit to the covenant. Yet the Lord walks through it Himself! The Lord fulfills the covenant in our inability to carry through. The Lord always pulls through.

Redefining Relationships

This new framework completely redefines what the good life looks like vis-a-vis how to pursue relationships and happiness. It is better to have a singular friend who you are committed to and never give up on than 10 friends who you cannot stay fully committed to.

A man of many companions may come to ruin, but there is a friend who sticks closer than a brother
—Proverbs 18:24

For example, David and Jonathan. With David competing with Jonathan to be successor to the king’s throne, they had every reason to be sworn enemies. Yet each loved each other “as himself” and in fact made a covenant with each other (1 Samuel 18)! This wasn’t just poetic talk. It has no meaning unless born out by action. Jonathan risks his own life and prosperity to save David from his father (1 Samuel 20). And gives up his (human) ‘right’ to the throne while at it.

The steadfastness of the LORD is one of His most awe-inspiring characteristics that we have no context for in this world.

May the Lord direct your hearts to the love of God and to the steadfastness of Christ
—2 Thessalonians 3:5

[1] Life Together, Dietrich Bonhoeffer (1939)

Leave a Reply