Thursday, April 27, 2006

Steadfast

St James told us yesterday that the testing of our faith produces steadfastness. But just what is steadfastness? I rather like the term myself, for it refers to one of the more solid and noble of the biblical virtues.

The virtue belongs primarily to God, however. God is the one whose “steadfast love” is our hope for restoration and salvation. “I will betroth you to Me forever; I will betroth you to Me in righteousness and justice, in steadfast love and mercy. I will betroth you to Me in faithfulness; and you shall know the Lord” (Hosea 2:19-20). This “steadfast love” of God translates the notoriously difficult, but extremely important, Hebrew word, hesed. Practically all of the terms in the above passage can and have been used to try to translate this word. It refers to God’s relationship to his people which flows from the covenant He established with them. Therefore it has been translated “steadfast love,” “loving kindness,” “faithful love,” “mercy,” etc. The “steadfast” element in this relationship denotes God’s fidelity, loyalty, reliability, strength, and unfailing saving presence.

The dictionary defines “steadfast” as follows: 1 a: firmly fixed in place: immovable b: not subject to change 2 : firm in belief, determination, or adherence: loyal. It is clear how God is thus our rock and firm support and place of refuge, where we can be sure to find divine fidelity and unshakable strength and goodness.

But we are called to be steadfast as well, and St James tells us that that it is the testing of our faith that makes us so. If we are steadfast, then we are firm in our faith—if we have passed the test!—and are determined to love and serve the Lord, immovable in our adherence and loyalty to Him. This is really a priceless virtue, especially in these times when commitment is devalued, when loyalty seems a quality of former ages, when unshakable fidelity is deemed impossible, and when firmness in faith is considered rigid and intolerant. Fr Bernard O’Connor recently wrote that in this day and age, “So-called tolerance may well be the preferred filler for the vacuum created by an abdication of courage and conviction.”

St Paul says that we will be found holy and irreproachable before the Lord only if “you continue in the faith, stable and steadfast, not shifting from the hope of the gospel which you heard…” (Col. 1:23). And again: “Continue steadfastly in prayer, with watchfulness and thanksgiving…” (4:2). Steadfastness is a virtue sorely lacking in the world today, for it is much more popular to blow with the winds of change, to shrink from the demands of fidelity to the truth, and to practice a phony brand of “compassion” which is little more than sloppy sentimentality or a weak indifference to that which true love and mercy require.

So let us be steadfast in our faith, courageous in the practice thereof, immovable in our adherence to the truth, and loyal to Him who has called us out of darkness into his marvelous light. If our faith has to be tried by fire to produce this steadfastness, so be it. Better to be painfully trained in the ways of righteousness than to be merrily carried along in the polluted currents of passing fads, dubious trends, and the misguided (or even positively evil) agendas whose outcome—it will be discovered all too late—is human degradation and ultimately damnation. Steadfastly adhere, then, to the steadfast love and mercy of the true God!