It is a truism today that commitments don’t hold for very long. If something better comes along, you simply renegotiate things. One’s word is just that: a word, which can be changed by another.
Traditionally, when one gave one’s word or made a commitment, it was something sacred. One’s whole self-image and the trust that people have in you was dependent on your fidelity to your word.
We see the fall off of this idea in the realm of marriage.
With our reliance on ‘falling in love’ and the personal choice of our spouses, it is very easy to rely on our feelings to determine our true love. The problem with this model of marriage is that it is dependent on feelings that come and go according to circumstances. The experience of ‘falling in love’ can lead to the feeling of ‘falling out of love’. In both experiences, the person is completely passive before the forces of attraction and repulsion that determine one’s direction in life.
In the past, when marriages were arranged, it was the parents who determined the partners. One had to learn to love the other. Remember that heartfelt exchange between Tevye and his wife in ‘Fiddler on the Roof’. They never ‘fell in love’, but they made a decision to love and kept that decision throughout their lives. In the musical, they discover that they do love each other and it was proven true by their many years of being there for each other and sharing their lives with each other.
The problem with a feeling-based way of looking at things is that one’s faithfulness is based on circumstances and not a firm decision that we will love no matter what. Keeping one’s options open is a way of hedging our bets about something. But when we take our vows at Baptism (really renewing them as adults) or our marriage vows, we take our lives in our hands and, in this risky world, say that I will be true to this decision I am making. This is what faithfulness is.
When we move into our relationship with God, then the full power of faithfulness shows forth. We often separate the experience of having faith in God from the faithfulness or fidelity that we have to a friend or loved one. But this faith in God is the same reality as our fidelity to a friend. Otherwise, we merely have faith in propositions. This is not what Jesus was talking about.
Over and over again in the Gospels, whenever someone expresses thanks to Jesus for a miracle wrought by the Lord in that person’s life, Jesus refuses to take the credit. Rather, He says: “Your Faith has saved you.” This is not faith in doctrine. On the contrary, Jesus is helping the person to realize that he already has a deep fidelity to God in even asking for the miracle and expecting that Jesus could do it. Nowhere in the Gospels does Jesus accomplish a miracle when a person expresses disbelief in God or in Him. A great example is the woman who tried to ‘sneak’ a miracle out of Jesus without His knowledge or approval: the woman with the 14-year hemorrhage.
In a more negative incidence, we read that when He went back to His hometown of Nazareth, the peoples’ lack of faith there distressed Him and, thus, He was not able to perform miracles because of their ‘lack of faith’.
Faith is so important that the woman who suffered for 14 years could draw out His power without His willing it, and then in Nazareth, where He presumably wanted to perform wonders, He was prevented by the people’s disbelief.
This personal fidelity to God and the willingness to risk being wrong is essential to anyone’s spiritual growth. We have to dare to believe.
This is not easy. Witness the anguished prayer of the father of the possessed child: “Lord I do believe but help my unbelief.”
Faith is essential in the spiritual life. It is its foundation. To be consistent, to say what we mean and mean what we say in this realm of belief, is a sine qua non of the spiritual journey. There can be no progress without it. In fact, we cannot even begin the journey without it.