(As we did not have a church service on Janury 24, 2021, this is a printed message from Michael Larsen.)
God's idea of faithfulness
People who don’t believe in God accuse Christians of creating our God. “He’s not real,’ they say. “Why doesn’t he help you?” they ask. “Why does God allow things like this pandemic?” they wonder. “God is just in your imagination,’ they say. However, if I were going to make up my own God, I don’t think I would’ve made a God like our God. I would have chosen a God that meets my expectations better. I want a God who always fixes my problems and heals my hurts. I want a God who is faithful to me in ways I expect.
Some Christians probably see God that way. They take one or two verses from the Bible, and say “God will meet all my needs and desires.” Or they say, “God will always heal me if I just believe hard enough.” But our God is the God of the whole Bible, and not just a few verses. Sometimes He doesn’t meet all our needs or desires the way we want.
The Bible often praises God’s faithfulness, especially in the Psalms.
Psalm 36:5: “Your love, O God, reaches to the heavens, your faithfulness to the skies.”
Psalm 86:15: “You, O Lord, are a compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness.”
And there are many more. I like this God! Who wouldn’t want a God like this?
Yet as we enter into a deeper relationship with God and Scripture, we increasingly discover that God usually does not act in easily understandable ways. For example, we ask Him to be faithful by answering our prayers for healing. After all, Psalm 103:3 says that God, “heals our all diseases.” So we pray healing from cancer, yet Christians die of cancer at nearly the same rate as non-Christians. We read in Philippians 4:19 where it says, “My God will meet all your needs according to his glorious riches in Christ Jesus.” So we pray for God to give us some financial riches to meet our needs, but the money never comes. What should we think? Is the Bible true or isn’t it? Is God faithful or isn’t He? Like the Tom Cruise character in the movie “Jerry MacGuire”, we want to yell at God “Show me the money!” But God doesn’t show us the money or the healing or so many other things we pray for. So either God isn’t faithful like the Bible says, or we don’t understand what God’s faithfulness means.
What are we missing? What is God’s idea of faithfulness?
The story of Job
Job certainly asked these questions. In Job’s time, people had very fixed ideas about God’s faithfulness. I included correcting injustice, healing sickness for good people, judging and punishing sinners, and providing for all living creatures. Job’s friends believed that if you lived righteously, God was obligated to make things right for you. Similarly, if you lived in an evil way, God would get you.
But there was Job, whom God had declared a righteous man, suffering from every kind of loss and illness. Long before Jesus came to live among us, Job was acquainted with all of our grief. In return for a righteous life, Job received almost unimaginable suffering. Where was God’s faithfulness? Had God forgotten his promises? Was God hiding or sleeping? I wonder which hurt Job more, the loss of his children and health, or that God was not acting they way he expected God to act?
In Job’s world, God answered questions and provided wisdom. God doesn’t allow good people like Job to suffer the way Job did. Job prays and asks and suffers, but God remains silent. Finally, God shows up, but instead of answering Job’s questions, God asks Job questions. What a disappointment! What kind of faithfulness is this? Job didn’t really want God to show up. He just wanted God to end his suffering and explain Himself.
Imagine praying at home for God to heal you pain, and God shows up and asks, “Why should I?” What would you say? “Uhhhh…”
Job is shocked by this and says in Job 42:5-6 “My ears had heard of you, but now my eyes have seen you. Therefore, I despise myself and repent in dust and ashes.”
God expressed his faithfulness not by providing anything, but by showing up, by being there. Does this sound familiar? Hundreds of years later, God showed up again in the person of Jesus Christ.
The person of Jesus Christ
No doubt, Jesus was also a disappointment to many of the Jews. He was not what they expected from God’s faithfulness. Some people wanted Jesus to judge and condemn sinners. If Jesus were to be faithful to their ideas of God’s faithfulness, then Jesus had to condemn a woman caught in adultery to be stoned. Other people wanted healing, and Jesus healed people by the thousands. But Jesus faithfulness didn’t always look like healing. In John 11, after hearing of a life-threatening illness in one of his closest friends, Jesus hangs around another two days before responding. As a result, Lazarus died. Martha and Mary appear with the same accusation on their lips. “If only you had been here, he would not have died.” God if only you had done it my way, the ways I asked.
But like his Father, Jesus showed us that God is faithful to us in ways we never could have dreamed. Jesus refused to condemn the woman caught in adultery because he knew that he would be condemned for her. Jesus said in John 12:47, “I did not come to judge the world, but to save it.” Jesus showed God’s faithfulness by showing up to save. And before Jesus moved to the tomb where his friend Lazarus was buried so he could resurrect him from the dead, he did something almost as memorable. He wept. He showed up and entered fully into the painful suffering of his friends. Then Jesus gave them a miracle that had not expected or even imagined. He brought Lazarus back to life.
Yet Lazarus would eventually die again. Death is still a reality for all of us. Jesus didn’t get rid of death. However, he changed how we look at death. And he changed how we look at God’s faithfulness. Faithfulness to God means being here. It means being present with us, in our suffering, in our loneliness, and in our sorrow. No one expected this kind of faithfulness. Jesus didn’t always faithfully give answers to prayers or requests for help or healing or judgment, but He did give Himself.
Who is God for you?
Who is God for you? What do you think his faithfulness should look like? Is your greatest hope that He might appear someday and judge your enemies? Or would you prefer that God show up in your times of grief?
Who is Jesus for you? Is it he just a miracle worker? Or is he Immanuel, God with us? Maybe his faithfulness is not revealed by healing or saving us from bankruptcy, but rather that God has chosen to be with us. The miracle is not in his provision, but in his presence. God showed his faithfulness by showing up in Jesus Christ and by becoming acquainted with our sorrows. His promise of faithfulness is heard in Matthew 28:20, “Surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” It is the best promise a groom can make to his bride.
Sometimes in our frustration we cry out to the heavens. We shake our fists at the sky, demanding that God act, move, fix, heal. We insist that He be faithful according to our expectations. We want a God who takes away our suffering, not a God who suffers with us.
But how did God speak of His faithfulness? In both the Old and New Testaments he said, “Never will I leave you. Never will I forsake you.” (Deuteronomy 31:6, Hebrews 13:5) And “Now the dwelling of God is with men and women, and He will live with them.” (Exodus 25:8, Revelation 21:3)
No doubt we will continue to forget this. We will continue to demand money and good health and happiness. And when God doesn’t answer the way we want Him to, we will doubt Him and accuse God of not caring.
If you think God doesn’t care, or that God isn’t faithful, if this is not the God you would have chosen, then perhaps it is time to begin to change your image of God. Maybe God wants to be more than our magic problem-solver. Maybe he wants to work in us, and not for us. The Bible says in Philippians 1:6 says, “He who began a good work in you will carry it on until the day of Jesus Christ.” Someday Jesus will be with us again. And on that day, the work in us will be complete.
God might not be the God we would have chosen, but He is the God who has chosen us.
(And if you are feeling in need of a “rescue,” I think you’ll really like this song by Lauren Daigle.)