Saturday 1 October 2022

A Living Tradition of Faithfulness

Steadfast love and faithfulness will meet;
righteousness and peace will kiss each other.
Faithfulness will spring up from the ground,
and righteousness will look down from the sky.

—Psalm 85:10-11

At ICS, we spend a lot of time thinking about and imagining what it means for a Christian tradition to be faithful. How do we recognize faithfulness when we see it? This question is harder to answer than it first seems, because we must avoid confusing faithfulness with the mere adoption or repetition of the intellectual beliefs or doctrines that have been codified by previous generations of Christians. Faithfulness goes deeper than that. Active reception and appropriation of a tradition includes an effort to make it “one’s own,” and that effort involves the communal discernment of what it means to be faithful in one’s own time. The answer to that question, an answer that is ultimately revealed by the fruit of faithful living, often is, and should be, different than the answers previous generations have produced. Yet somehow the faithfulness remains recognizable as a continuation of what had come before.

We know that faithfulness has something to do with accepting Scripture’s invitation to share a vision of a redeemed—a healed and transformed—world, the one so beautifully portrayed in Psalm 85. The psalmist envisions a world where chesed (steadfast lovingkindness and mercy, giving oneself completely in love and compassion) and emet (truth as faithfulness) meet, where tzedek (righteousness or justice) and shalom (peace, harmony, wholeness) kiss.

How can we be faithful to that vision today? While there is no automatic or simple answer to that question, we must never cease striving to answer it . Thankfully, the Spirit of our Maker and Redeemer is here to help us in this task, and Scripture provides much needed guidance and orientation for our approach. Even so, we still have the responsibility to discern for ourselves, in faithfulness, what faithfulness in fact requires of us today (and tomorrow, and the next). 

Scripture bears witness to God’s people struggling with this question time and again, and even shows them coming up with new answers that they are convinced remain faithful to this scriptural vision. I think we understand these people’s efforts at discernment better if we come to understand faithful living as something akin to a craft or skill, a way of living that organically evolves over time as it is passed from person to person and from generation to generation. While past virtuoso performances provide the necessary examples and inspiration to guide our current efforts, we remain called to contribute our own unique, novel performances, thereby making space for the spirit at work in this tradition to breathe new life into our own time and open an alternative future than the destructive one that today’s powers and principalities are constructing.

Friends, let us pray together for the eyes and ears that will help us notice and celebrate all the new ways of inhabiting our tradition that expand our imagination about what makes for faithful living, and which build our desire for our Maker’s chesed, emet, tzedek, and shalom!

Ron Kuipers