One of the recurring themes so far in this series on eight movements of faithful growth (a framework suggested by Wilkie Au and Noreen Cannon Au in their wonderful book The Discerning Heart) has been the need to ask how the specific kinds of growth we’ve been talking about are about faith. The post on growing to trust oneself even had to justify a position that at first glance seems to be the opposite of Biblical wisdom. Today, however, we find ourselves on much easier terrain, as today’s movement of growth is right at the centre of what we usually mean when we talk about growing in faith: This is “the movement toward trust in in God’s faithfulness.”
Since the Summer, I’ve spent a lot of time in this space thinking about faith and faithfulness. In a post about ancient and contemporary ideas of justice of faith, I concluded that faith/faithfulness (taken together as a single concept as they are in the ancient languages of our Bibles), is “about personal integrity, responsibility, and accountability. It’s about doing what you say you’ll do, being who you say you are, and living up to mutually understood and agreed-upon responsibilities in relationships.” It is simply showing up for ourselves, each other, and God.
If there is one single message of the Hebrew Scriptures it is that God is faithful. No matter how dire things look — from the midst of tribal warfare, oppression of the poor by the powerful, foreign invasion and even exile — the Scriptures insist that God remains faithful to the promises and covenants God has made. If we turn to the New Testament, especially the writings of Paul, we see that one of the main arguments the early Christians had to make was how the life, death and resurrection of Jesus was a demonstration of God’s faithfulness.
So we can say that the idea that God is faithful is a deep intuition of our entire tradition. And yet it remains challenging for us to appropriate for our own lives. In the post on the movement toward openness, I mentioned a time a few years ago when learned helplessness had set in and I struggled to accept the idea that if something is possible in the world, it is possible for me. As someone who understands my life in terms of my relationship with God, this was essentially a question of trust in God. I never questioned that God loved me and is faithful in the broad strokes, but in limiting my vision and expectation for what my life could look like, I was in a very real way also limiting my vision for what God could and would do in my life. My God was becoming smaller and smaller every day.
In Romans, Paul lists what God has done for our salvation and then asks, “If God is for us, who can be against us?” (8.31). You could say that I was in a state where, while I believed that God was not against us and not against me, and trusted that God was for us collectively, I did not trust that God was really and truly for me personally. I needed to move away from this kind of distrust in God’s goodness and faithfulness towards a deeper faith that looked past the immediate setbacks, losses, and disappointments to the bigger picture of what God was guiding me towards.
Now there is a danger with this line of thinking; pushed too far it can lead to a spiritually dangerous prosperity gospel that equates God’s faithfulness, blessing, and love with our material success and wealth. This is a contemporary heresy, antithetical to the teaching of Jesus, that has done an incredible amount of harm in our world. And so the point is not to suggest that we need to trust that God wants all our wildest dreams to come true; rather, the goal of this movement is simply to grow in trust that God has got our back. In this way it’s similar to the kind of “trust in oneself” from the last post, that was a trust in our capacity to handle whatever might come our way. Neither of these kinds of trust assumes our lives are going to be easy or successful by the standards of the world. What they assume is that we can handle whatever comes our way both because of our strength and resilience and because God will be with us no matter what.
It bears repeating: No matter what the circumstances of our lives may be — in peace and strife, in success and failure, at ease or in Exile — God is present with us, “working all things for good” for us, both collectively and personally. This sounds simple enough but it’s often very difficult. It means choosing not to listen to so much of our experience of the world. It means trusting that there is abundance in a world dominated by scarcity. It means trusting ourselves — our hearts and minds and bodies, our hopes and dreams — to God in a world that teaches us to trust no one. And this is why it’s a movement of growth; step by step we learn to trust that in a faithless world, God remains faithful.