The Rock of God's Fidelity
I live in the cold north where the ground can heave several inches in the winter. Hence, building foundations need to be set deep in the earth. Moreover, the footings need to be made solid, usually with reinforced concrete.
Promises are comparable to the foundation footings of a building. They form the substructure of marriage, business contracts, religious vows, and diplomatic initiatives. When promises break down so does the skeletal fabric of society. What, then, gives stability to a promise?
The fidelity of the promiser makes a promise firm and stable.
"God is faithful," say the Holy Scriptures time and again. When God promises, one can safely build, because He is the everlasting Rock (Isaiah 26:4).
However, in most cases, God's promises are conditional. That is, God faithfully fulfills his part but the effectiveness of his promises depend upon the human response. In Biblical terms, this arrangement is not a legal contract as such but a sacred bond, known as a covenant. A covenant is an agreement based on love rather than law.
Christians believe that Jesus is the mediator of God's definitive covenant with humanity. This article considers ten of God's promises as conveyed by his beloved Son, Jesus:
- The Vision of God
- Eternal Life
- Answered Prayers
- God Is With Us
- God Is Merciful
- The Holy Spirit
- Detachment Receives a Reward
- Our Deeds Are Recompensed
- The Church Will Prevail
- He Will Come Again in Glory
1. The Vision of God
People often stand in line to see a musical performance or sit on cold bleachers to see a football game. They pay the price to see. These sights are exciting—I have enjoyed them myself—yet, they pass like a summer cloud.
By contrast, the vision of God endures forever, surpasses all earthly beauty, and fulfills every desire.
The thought of seeing God both attracted and frightened the ancient Israelites: No one may see me and live, said God to Moses (Exodus 33:18). The example of Manoah, the father of Samson, conveys the Israelite's awe; after encountering the angel of the Lord, Manoah told his wife, We are doomed to die! We have seen God! (Judges13:22)
Yet, God now gives the opportunity for human beings to enjoy his happiness in a face to face vision. It is the ultimate gift that comes through the merits of Jesus Christ. With his own Blood, Jesus paid for our 'ticket,' so to speak.
But, this marvelous promise comes conditioned on the purity of the beholder: "Blessed are the pure of heart, for they shall see God." (Mt 5:8)
Purity, then, is a prerequisite for seeing, because "nothing unclean can enter heaven." (Rev 21:27)
Is this a cause for discouragement? After all, who feels himself to be pure enough to see God? The good news is that there are multitudes of sinners in heaven who became spotless through the Blood of the Lamb.
2. Eternal Life
Someone offers you a gift of an exquisite houseplant—it's in your power to either care for it or neglect it. In like manner, the gift of eternal life begins with faith, which in turn, must be cultivated. Jesus says in many and various ways, "Very truly, I tell you, whoever believes has eternal life." (Jn 6:47)
Once again, we find a promise based on a condition, that of faith: "God so loved the world that He gave his only Son, that all who believe in Him may have eternal life." (Jn 3:16)
How, then, is faith to be cultivated?
Prayer is essential as is meditation on God's word: "If you abide in my word, you will truly be my disciples; and you will know the truth and the truth will make you free." (Jn 8:31-31)
However, just as plants need food, so the soul needs nourishment to live. Jesus provides his own Body and Blood in the Eucharist that the soul may grow unto eternal life: "He who eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day." (Jn 6:54)
The following video explains the promise of eternal life in greater detail.
3. Answered Prayers
A lady once said to me, "I prayed to God, but it seems his line was busy."
No, no, God's line is never busy—His ear is always open and listening. He always answers our prayers, but perhaps not as we wish.
Let's not forget that "no" is an answer. However, this must not be understood as parsimony on God's part. Consider a parent who denies the unhealthy whim of her child. The parent sees the bigger picture and so it's usually an act of mercy if she says "no."
Again, think of the great St. Paul who begged three times that he might be delivered from his bodily affliction. Jesus told him, "My grace is sufficient for you; for power is made perfect in weakness." (2 Cor 12:7-10) Paul accepted God's purpose even though he couldn't see the full meaning of it.
However, a negative answer to prayer may also be due to a deficiency on our part. Jesus says, "If you abide in me and my words abide in you, ask whatever you will, and it shall be done to you." (Jn 15:7) To abide in Christ means to stay connected with Him (cf Jn 15:1-8). An electric lamp turns on because it's connected to the socket. If one disconnects from God by disobedience or laziness, it's not God's fault.
Other factors to unfulfilled prayers may be a lack of fervor, faith, or persistence. I know of persons whose prayer was granted only after relentless knocking. If God delays, perhaps it may be to draw out faith, as when He told the Syro-Phoenician woman, "Let the children be fed first, for it is not fair to take the children's food and throw it to the dogs." (Mark 7:27) As it happened so many times, Jesus granted the request only after an exercise of faith.
4. God Is With Us
Countless saints have endured solitary confinement in spidery dungeons. Others chose a life of reclusion. What prevented them from feeling lonely? Because their soul was settled on the firm rock of God's promise: "I am with you always, even to the close of the age." (Mt 28:20)
God dwells in every soul, even sinners, as St. John of the Cross explains: "God sustains every soul and dwells in it substantially, even though it may be that of the greatest sinner in the world. This union between God and creatures always exists." (Ascent of Mt. Carmel, Bk. 2, ch. 5:3) However, there is a yet more intimate presence.
The supernatural presence of God in believers comes through love and grace. In these souls, God dwells as in a temple (2 Cor. 6:16), as a Bridegroom in his spouse, and as a lover in his beloved: If a man loves me, he will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him. (Jn 14:23)
5. God Is Merciful
God's mercy is like the life-giving sun but He needs an open door to operate. As St. Faustina explains,
Let no one doubt concerning the goodness of God; even if a person's sins were as dark as night, God's mercy is stronger than our misery. One thing is necessary: that the sinner set ajar the door of his heart, be it ever so little, to let in a ray of God's merciful grace, then God will do the rest. (Diary 1507)
The door opens through trust and repentance. God is always ready to forgive, like the father of the prodigal son, but He requires humility, trust, and love on our part.
The mercy of God becomes impotent, as it were, when He meets with obduracy:
"If you forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father also will forgive you; but if you do not forgive men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses." (Mt 6:14-15)
Once again, God's promise holds good on condition that the soul co-operates.
6. The Holy Spirit
Jesus was patient as He endured his Apostle's smallness. How often they quarreled over who was number one; they cowered behind closed doors when confronted with threats from the authorities; their minds seemed dull in understanding Jesus' words.
Jesus had to frequently remind them that they would not be left as orphans—He would clothe them with power from on high.
This promise was marvelously fulfilled at Pentecost as the Apostles became entirely new men. They perceived the full import of Jesus' words and spread it abroad even in the face of death.
Jesus extends the promise of the Holy Spirit to all who are baptized and believe in Him:
Let anyone who is thirsty come to me, and let the one who believes in me drink. As the scripture has said, 'Out of the believer's heart shall flow rivers of living water.' Now he said this about the Spirit, which believers in him were to receive; for as yet there was no Spirit because Jesus was not yet glorified. (Jn 7:37-39)
Finally, St. Paul emphasizes that the believer's body is a temple of the Holy Spirit:
Do you not know that you are God's temple and that God's Spirit dwells in you? If anyone destroys God's temple, God will destroy that person. For God's temple is holy, and you are that temple. (1Cor 3:16-17)
The foundation of this temple rests on faith and keeping the commandments: “If you love me, you will keep my commandments. And I shall ask the Father and He will give you another Paraclete, to be with you forever.” (Jn 14:15-16)
7. Detachment Receives a Reward
Someone may ask, "Why does Jesus insist so much on detachment?"
The answer is simple: a soul that is bound cannot fly. Our souls were made to nest in God's Heart.
St. John of the Cross puts it in these terms:
It makes little difference whether a bird is tied by a thin thread or by a cord. Even if it is tied by a thread, the bird will be held bound just as surely as if it were tied by a cord; that is, it will be impeded from flying as long as it does not break the thread. (Ascent, Bk I, Ch. 11:4)
Breaking the thread requires trust in the promise of something better:
Truly I tell you, there is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or fields, for my sake and for the sake of the good news, who will not receive a hundredfold now in this age—houses, brothers and sisters, mothers and children, and fields, with persecutions—and in the age to come eternal life. (Mark 10:29-30)
By leaving all, we gain all. Earthly treasures perish but heavenly ones endure forever. Detachment brings freedom, and freedom brings us to God.
8. Our Deeds Are Recompensed
Scripture indicates in various ways that one's actions are recompensed with either a reward or punishment:
We must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may receive good or evil, according to what he has done in the body. (2 Cor 5:10)
Behold, I am coming soon bringing my recompense, to repay everyone according to the deeds of each. (Rev 22:12)
Hence, if we quietly give alms, fast, or pray in solitude, there is a reward: Your Father who sees in secret will reward you. (Mt 6:1-18) Moreover, the charity or cruelty that we extend to our neighbor has Jesus as the recipient: Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brethren, you did to me. (Mt 25:40)
Even the smallest deed is not forgotten:
Whoever gives one of these little ones even a cup of cold water to drink because he is a disciple, I solemnly tell you that he will not lose his reward (Mt 10:42)
Conversely, all evil deeds and even careless words will be recompensed:
But I say to you that if you are angry with a brother or sister, you will be liable to judgment; and if you insult a brother or sister, you will be liable to the council; and if you say, 'You fool,' you will be liable to the hell of fire. (Mt 5:22)
9. The Church Will Prevail
Jesus uses two implicit metaphors to describe the Church and both involve the Apostle Peter, whose name in Aramaic means rock: Kepha (i.e. Cephas)
First, Jesus indicates that his Church is a house, built on the rock of St. Peter's faith:
I tell you, you are Peter (Kepha), and on this rock (kepha) I will build my Church, and the gates of Hell will not prevail against it. (Mt 16:18)
Secondly, the Church is a boat, figuratively known as the "barque of Peter." Several of the Apostles were fishermen by trade, including St. Peter. Jesus tells them that they will henceforth be fishers of men. Thus, while the Church is divine in origin it has human beings as the crew and passengers.
This conjunction of divine strength and human vulnerability reveals itself in history.
On the one hand, we see her frailty in the struggle against heresy, persecution, division, scandals, and war. On the other hand, she reveals her strength by constantly prevailing over these trials.
In the end, the Church will descend from heaven as the Bride of Christ, clothed anew and made perfect. (Rev 21:9-11)
10. He Will Come Again in Glory
The Jewish people of Jesus' day were in expectation of a Messiah whose advent would break the strong arm of Roman oppression. Hence, when Jesus was born in obscurity in Bethlehem, only a tiny portion of Israel recognized Him as the Chosen One. As He entered the public scene, Jesus did not fit the Messianic model of a political hero.
However, if his first coming was marked by obscurity and humiliation, his return will be majestic:
I tell you, hereafter you shall see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of Power, and coming on the clouds of heaven” (Mt 26:64)
When the Son of Man comes in His glory, and all the angels with Him, then He will sit on His glorious throne. And all the nations will be gathered before Him. (Mt 25:31-32
Just as the lightning, when it flashes out of one part of the sky, shines to the other part of the sky, so will the Son of Man be in His day. (Luke 17:24)
The Wise Builder
Jesus commenced his public mission at the age of thirty. Until that time, he was a village carpenter, building and repairing houses with his earthly father, Joseph. He knows the importance of a secure foundation—one built on rock rather than sand.
The wise builder, therefore, is he who accepts Jesus' promises. He can face the coming winter with calm:
Everyone then who hears these words of mine and does them will be like a wise man who built his house upon the rock; the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat upon that house, but it did not fall, because it had been founded on the rock. (Mt 7:24-25)
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.
© 2023 Bede