One of the traits I value in a good leader is someone who looks out for his or her followers – even at their own expense. This is why I’m a fan of the Chinese movie, “Hero,1” where the hero is someone who sacrifices his life for many. His sacrifice shows his faithfulness to his people. And faithfulness is highly valued in Chinese culture; for he or she who is faithful has strength of character. The Chinese character for faithful gives a powerful visual image – the character for center or middle, above the character for heart.
While I personally value faithfulness, I have a hard time believing in God’s faithfulness. It’s not that I haven’t seen God come through or look out for me or others throughout my life. It’s just that he’s inconsistent. He doesn’t act the way I expect him to act. He doesn’t act as quickly as I want him to act. Let me share an example.
People of color in the United States have been oppressed for 525 years (2017-1492). The abolition of slavery aside, only in the last 52 years have we seen some significant “progress” in racial justice and equality, with the passing of the Civil Rights Act (1964), Voting Rights Act and the repeal of the Chinese Exclusion Act in 1965. But we have a very long way to go.
If God takes such a long time on this racial justice thing – do I still believe he’s faithful?
The writer of Hebrews defines faith as “the confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see. This is what the ancients were commended for.” – Hebrews 11:1-2, NIV
Abraham is cited as one of the faithful ancients. He believes God’s promise – even though it takes 25 years for God’s promise of an offspring to be fulfilled (Genesis 11-21).
“By faith he received power of procreation, even though he was too old—and Sarah herself was barren—because he considered him faithful who had promised.” – Hebrews 11:11, NRSV
Abraham’s relationship with God gives him the confidence to hope and be assured; for he considered God faithful. God makes a covenant with Abraham (Genesis 15, 17) and promises to make him the ancestor of a multitude of nations, and to provide land. This covenant is not just between Abraham and God but extends to his descendants, to a people, to a multitude of nations, for generations. He will be their God, they will be his people. But the covenant takes a LONG time to be fulfilled.
“All of these died in faith without having received the promises, but from a distance they saw and greeted them.” – Hebrews 11:13, NRSV
Many have gone before us who resisted oppression and fought for justice. I think about the slaves who believed in God’s faithfulness. I think about our heroes, Martin Luther King, Jr. and Richard Twiss. Many died in faith without receiving the promise. But in faith, they saw from a distance only what faith can see: a “better country” where their God dwells – the God of justice and mercy.
The distance can be 1, 4, 10, 100 years or more. Can I see that far or do I only see the here and now?
The Chinese character for justice or righteousness is the first person pronoun “I” or “me” under the “lamb.”
I realize that my inability to see the distance has nothing to do with God’s character, but rather my own lack of faith. Like the ancients, I need to consider him faithful who has promised. This is a choice I can make. I can choose faith.
I love Mary Mary’s Gospel rendition of “Can’t Give up Now2” because it communicates deciding to go the distance with God.
I just can’t give up now
I’ve come too far from where I started from
Nobody told me
The road would be easy
And I don’t believe
He’s brought me this far
To leave me
He hasn’t brought us this far to leave us.
1 Zhang, Yimou, director. Hero. Miramax, 2004
2 Mary Mary. Can’t Give Up Now. Waryn Campbell and Dr. Jonathan Greer II, 2000. CD.