Sometimes the logic of God being God is baffling. Today’s New Testament lesson (Hebrews 6:13-20) clears some of that up for me. Despite the nuanced text, I think it’s one of those passages we can read and walk away from with stronger faith.
The author starts by invoking God’s promise to Abraham: “When God made a promise to Abraham, because he had no one greater by whom to swear, he swore by himself.” At first, that seems silly, but imagine yourself in court. When you put your hand on the “good book” and swear (or affirm) your oath you swear to God. I haven’t really thought much about that before, but I’m guessing that by swearing by God we put ourselves under divine consequences if we break that oath. When the author continues, writing, “Human beings, of course, swear by someone greater than themselves,” it helps me think about whom else I might swear by—my parents, my boss, the governor, etc.. We swear by appealing to someone up the ladder, and the higher up we go the easier it is for someone else to trust us.
So when God makes an oath, by whom does he swear? By himself, of course. God’s word is enough. As the author of Hebrews puts it, God simply says to Abraham, “I will surely bless you and multiply you.” Enough said. And therein lies the real lesson for me today. If God swears by himself, everything hangs in the balance when that promise is made. God can’t make false promises. If God even once reneged on his oath, the universe would collapse. Either that, or we would all find a new God to worship.
When the stakes are at their highest, even one prevarication sends the whole system crashing down. You and I get second chances. We get third and fourth and fifth chances, too. When we break our promises (it happens), life moves on. Eventually, people are willing to trust us again. But that isn’t so with God. If God—the definition of faithfulness—were to back out of a deal, no one could ever believe in him again.
If people have been trusting God for 5000+ years, it means that God has been consistently faithful for that whole time. So, when I find myself wondering or doubting about God’s faithfulness in 2012, I should remember that there are millennia of the most stringent precedent to rely on. God has been faithful in every case in every time. That’s how we define God—as faithful. My faith in him doesn’t have to be a new proposition. I’m relying on all of human history.