By Christopher Zoukis
“Faith would be that God …. bound himself to time and its hazards and haps
as a man would lash himself to a tree for love.”
— ANNIE DILLARD, HOLY THE FIRM
Faithfulness. A noun. The best synonym for it is probably ‘constant,’ to my mind anyway.
And the first thing we need to know is how the early church understood this word ‘faithfulness.’ Indeed, I would hazard that most of us would have a hard time defining faithfulness in modern terms, much less understanding how the ancient world used the word. In one sense, in today’s world, this word has no meaning, really. The state of our world when it comes to ‘staunchness,’ and ‘loyalty,’ and ‘fidelity’ …. well, we realize that the word doesn’t mean much anymore. And one of the reasons for that is this: the word has a context. That is, in order to define the word you have to go back and get its context. And we just simply do not have that context any longer in today’s world. So it’s hard for us to understand it.
Therefore we have to go back and back and back so that we can grasp it. And the context of the word in the ancient world was found in the expression “blood covenant.” A blood covenant was when two people came together in a bond that was stronger than natural ties. It was the ultimate form of binding two people together. This bond was unbreakable, no matter what. And the making of this covenant involved the shedding of the blood of an animal and the death of the animal. Vows were taken, oaths were recited, and scars were made on the physical body — a very intricate ritual. In fact, the two parties would actually exchange names. And every covenant was consummated in a covenant meal, which was usually a cup of wine and the eating of bread. Moreover, the fidelity that arose out of the covenant was designated ‘lovingkindness.’ Lovingkindness means ‘steadfast love, love that is as solid as a rock, love that will never fail.’ In short, it is covenant faithfulness.
It is not based on how I feel; it is based upon a choice that I made. It is a commitment that I cannot get out of. All the discussion and the theory took place before the covenant was made. Now that it has been made, the action that comes out of it is faithfulness and loyalty. Faithfulness is always action; it is doing something; I am committed to it.
Remember Ruth and Naomi? They had a special commitment to each other. “Do not urge me to leave you,” she said, “or to turn back from following you. For where you go, I will go. Where you lodge, I shall lodge. Your people shall be my people. Your God shall be my God.” That’s commitment! And Naomi turned to leave, but Ruth wouldn’t allow it. She was committed. She was loyal. She was faithful — no matter what. And it’s that no matter what part that takes your breath away.
Or what about the story of David and Jonathan, and how they were in covenant with each other? And when Jonathan died, David said, “I must, I must find a son of Jonathan in order to fulfill lovingkindness.” He was bound to be faithful. And he searched the land until he found Mephibosheth, the son of Jonathan, who in no way deserved anything from David. In fact, Mephibosheth was a terrorist who would have happily put a knife through David’s heart. But David gave and gave and gave to him simply because of the covenant that he had made with Jonathan.
So once more I will repeat it: faithfulness is action — it’s doing something. It’s working out the covenant commitment. It means that everything that you have is theirs. All is made available. And you will be loyal to that to the point of death. And it’s interesting that in the Old Testament the word means ‘battle companion.’ That’s the person that was always by your side. They would never let you down — you would die together, if necessary. And this faithfulness was expected of oneself and of one’s covenant partner.
That’s what the word ‘faith’ means.
 In the KJV of the Bible, the word ‘lovingkindness’ is translated ‘mercy.’