Leading Question: What is it that inspires us and enables us to be faithful to people, to God?
“Saving” faith is a gift of God. But the result of God’s gifts in our life is part of the fruit of the Spirit, faithfulness. These are the questions we need to address:
1. Trusting on a reasonable probability: Rom. 8:24-25. Too often in our world, we tend to rely on external proofs from science, archaeology, or prophecy. But those are not like the bonds that we establish with trustworthy people and with God. In Romans 8:24-25 Paul notes that we are saved in hope, but hope that is seen is not hope. What enables us to hope, when the “hard” proof is missing? Some C. S. Lewis quotes nicely capture the crucial thoughts:
To love involves trusting the beloved beyond the evidence, even against much evidence. No man is our friend who believes in our good intentions only when they are proved. No man is our friend who will not be very slow to accept evidence against them. Such confidence, between one man and another, is in fact almost universally praised as a moral beauty, not blamed as a logical error. And the suspicious man is blamed for a meanness of character, not admired for the excellence of his logic. – C. S. Lewis, “On Obstinacy in Belief,” in The World’s Last Night and Other Essays, 26.
The link between trust and friendship is elaborated further in this conversation between Lewis and Sheldon Vanauken as the latter was exploring the possibility of coming to faith:
I do not think there is a demonstrative proof (like Euclid) of Christianity. . . . As to why God doesn”t make it demonstrably clear; are we sure that He is even interested in the kind of Theism which would be a compelled logical assent to a conclusive argument? Are we interested in it in personal matters? I demand from my friend a trust in my good faith which is certain without demonstrative proof. It wouldn”t be confidence at all if he waited for rigorous proof. Hang it all, the very fairy tales embody the truth. Othello believed in Desdemona”s innocence when it was proved: but that was too late. Lear believed in Cordelia’s love when it was proved: but that was too late. “His praise is lost who stays till all commend.” The magnanimity, the generosity which will trust on a reasonable probability, is required of us. But supposing one believed and was wrong after all? Why, then you would have paid the universe a compliment it doesn”t deserve. Your error would even so be more interesting and important than the reality. And yet how could that be? How could an idiotic universe have produced creatures whose mere dreams are so much stronger, better, subtler than itself? – Letter from C. S. Lewis to Sheldon Vanauken, December 23, 1950, A Severe Mercy (San Francisco: Harper and Row, 1977, 1987), 92.
2. Results of Faithfulness: Hebrews 11. The exuberant psalms that celebrate God’s protecting care (e.g. 34, 91) should probably be seen more as testimonies rather than as iron-clad promises. Most of us can probably remember those moments when events turned out far better than we could possibly have dreamed. When that happens, the heart and soul soar to heights that leave sober realities far behind. Hebrews 11 lists a host of “faithful” ones along with the rewards for their faithfulness. One of the more striking examples involves threats from the sword. By faith, says Scripture, some “escaped the edge of the sword” (Heb. 11:34, NRSV); but a few lines further we read that by faith some “were killed by the sword” (Heb. 11:37, NRSV). Deliverance or destruction: take your pick. Divine intervention on our behalf is highly unpredictable. Acts 12 opens with a description of the death of James at the hands of Herod (Acts 12:2). But later in that same chapter, Peter is miraculously delivered from prison by the hand of an angel (Acts 12:6-11). What is even more puzzling is the fact that the “innocent” guards all lost their lives because of Peter’s deliverance. Amazingly, Acts 16:16-40 tells how Paul and Silas were thrown into prison, but chose to remain in the prison when the earthquake had actually provided for their escape. As a result, the jailer and his entire family accepted the Lord Jesus. What does faithfulness mean given such a wide spectrum of possibilities?
3. Faithful to the end: Matt. 24:13. Matthew 24-25 reveal some of the complexities, perplexities and truths that are important for understanding the time of the end. The most important truth is this one: Always be ready, because no one knows when the end will come: Matt. 24:36, 44, 50; 25:13. Even the wise virgins were able to sleep well at night because they were ready. If one’s preparations are motivated by fear instead of by love, the results can be disastrous, as it was for the slave who began to act up because he thought the master would be delayed (24:48-50). In modern terms, C. S. Lewis lays out the sober reality:
We must never speak to simple, excitable people about “the day” without emphasizing again and again the utter impossibility of prediction. We must try to show them that the impossibility is an essential part of the doctrine. If you do not believe our Lord’s words, why do you believe in his return at all? And if you do believe them must you not put away from you, utterly and forever, any hope of dating that return? His teaching on the subject quite clearly consisted of three propositions. (1) That he will certainly return. (2) That we cannot possibly find out when. (3) And that therefore we must always be ready for him. – C. S. Lewis, “The World’s Last Night” in The World’s Last Night and Other Essays, 107.