The sturdiness of God

Found on a slip of paper stuck in my catechism:

The Hebrew word for faith (emúnah) derives from the stem emeth, faithfulness, one of God’s greatest attributes.  God is merciful and faithful (hesed we’ emeth, Gen 24.27).  We might as well say, tender and tough.  For emeth evokes the image of a rock on which we can lean or build.  God will not move; we can always count on him.  Our faith is the act of leaning on the toughness or ‘sturdiness’ of God.  The liturgical word ‘Amen’ has the same stem.  To say ‘Amen’ is above all to believe; it is the act of affirming the sturdiness of God as it comes through to us from his Word or from the person of Jesus.  The Apocalypse of John says of Jesus that he is at once amen and pistos–faithful (Rev. 3.14).  He is faithful in two directions.  It is his privilege boundlessly and, as it were, recklessly to lean against his Father, because he as no other may count on his Father’s power and ‘sturdiness.’  Similarly in his relation to us he becomes the eminently sturdy and powerful one against whom we on our part may lean just as recklessly and boundlessly.  (André Louf, Tuning Into Grace)

3 thoughts on “The sturdiness of God

  1. How great is our God! What a wonderful exposition of strength and gentleness combined. This is what we all need. Men and women alike.

  2. This is very interesting. We think of “faithful” as coming from the root “faith.” But the Hebrew for “faith” comes from the root for “faithful.” The human virtue comes from the attribute of God. We have faith because He is faithful!

  3. Lucy, you might be interested in footnote 52 of JPII’s encyclical, Dives in Misericordiae. He makes just that point. Here is the pertinent part:

    In describing mercy, the books of the Old Testament use two expressions in particular, each having a different semantic nuance. First there is the term hesed, which indicates a profound attitude of “goodness.” When this is established between two individuals, they do not just wish each other well; they are also faithful to each other by virtue of an interior commitment, and therefore also by virtue of a faithfulness to themselves. Since hesed also means “grace” or “love,” this occurs precisely on the basis of this fidelity. The fact that the commitment in question has not only a moral character but almost a juridical one makes no difference. When in the Old Testament the word hesed is used of the Lord, this always occurs in connection with the covenant that God established with Israel. This covenant was, on God’s part, a gift and a grace for Israel. Nevertheless, since, in harmony with the covenant entered into, God had made a commitment to respect it, hesed also acquired in a certain sense a legal content. The juridical commitment on God’s part ceased to oblige whenever Israel broke the covenant and did not respect its conditions. But precisely at this point, hesed, in ceasing to be a juridical obligation, revealed its deeper aspect: it showed itself as what it was at the beginning, that is, as love that gives, love more powerful than betrayal, grace stronger than sin.

    This fidelity vis-a-vis the unfaithful “daughter of my people”(cf. Lam. 4:3, 6) is, in brief, on God’s part, fidelity to Himself. This becomes obvious in the frequent recurrence together of the two terms hesed we’e met (= grace and fidelity), which could be considered a case of hendiadys (cf. e.g. Ex. 34:6; 2 Sm. 2:6; 15:20; Ps. 25[24]:10; 40[39]:11-12; 85[84]:11; 138[137]:2; Mi. 7:20). “It is not for your sake, O house of Israel, that I am about to act, but for the sake of my holy name” (Ez. 36:22). Therefore Israel, although burdened with guilt for having broken the covenant, cannot lay claim to God’s hesed on the basis of (legal) justice; yet it can and must go on hoping and trusting to obtain it, since the God of the covenant is really “responsible for his love.” The fruits of this love are forgiveness and restoration to grace, the reestablishment of the interior covenant.

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