Monday, February 21, 2011

Defining Faithfulness

If you've been around me for very long you're sure to have heard me say something along the lines of, "Faithfulness is not simply believing in something."  Some may read this and think, "Well, duh," while others read this and think, "Heretic!"  If I say I'm faithful to my wife, that doesn't mean I just believe she exists.  It means I am true to her, committed to her, make repeated choices that choose her over others.  For some reason when people start thinking about Christianity or God, they suddenly begin treating the idea of faith differently, but it isn't.

Infant Israel seems to like making this false distinction also.  There's not doubt they believe in God's existence, or even his ability to act, but they're anything but faithful.  They constantly turn their backs on him.  As spouses, they are unfaithful.  In Numbers 22-25, King Balak sends for the diviner Balaam.  (As an interesting side note, Balaam is one of the few ancient Biblical characters there is archeological evidence for.  In 1967 a copy of one of his divinations was discovered.  The copy dates to around 800 BC.  You can read a recent translation of the text here.)  Although Balak and Balaam both intend to curse (as in put a curse on someone, not swear at them), Balaam is forced to bless the Israelites, not once, but three times.  This, understandably, infuriates King Balak, who then refuses to pay Balaam for his services.  However, the thing that stands out to me about this whole passage is not how Balaam is forced to bless Israel, but rather that after receiving three blessings, the people of Israel then convert to worshiping Baal.  Granted, the Israelites probably did not know that God was working on their behalf, behind the scenes with Balaam, but they had first hand knowledge of all the things God did for them up to that point.

Israel was an unfaithful spouse, through and through.  Her unfaithfulness was like the red and white swirl of a candy-cane.  No matter where you break it, you'll find the swirl because it goes all the way through.  That's a sad commentary on the choices Israel made.  It's a sad commentary on how God has given humanity power to shape creation, even ourselves, but we shape it for the worse far too often.

Faithfulness is not belief.  Faithfulness is trustworthiness and commitment and keeping our word.  Belief is the easy part.  Faithfulness...not so much.

Stopping point: Numbers 25

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