Fidelity is a word that we seldom hear or speak of today. In fact, I think I have not heard that word spoken more than a few times in recent years. Perhaps this is because it is a quality or characteristic that we do not encounter very often—or often enough—in our day. It is, in fact, a quality of one’s character that defines and describes his or her devotion and allegiance to some person or principle. A few synonyms of fidelity include faithfulness, loyalty, constancy, integrity, reliability, and devotion.
Let’s focus on just two of those synonyms—faithfulness and reliability.
More than Belief
Fidelity to God includes or entails faithfulness to God. What does it mean to say that a woman is faithful to Deity? How do we describe a faithful man? What is it about a person of faith that stands out? Maybe it would be worthwhile, first of all, to discuss briefly what faith is not.
Faith is not gullibility or falling for anything. Faithless people are sometimes quite critical of those who possess what they do not. They assume that people who live their lives by faith are naïve, easily swayed, simple-minded, and, in some cases, even dangerous. This is not faith. A faithful person is a thinking being, one who can judge, assess, discern, and reason, one who, for instance, can distinguish clearly between good and evil, light and darkness, right and wrong, important and unimportant. A faithful person does not fall prey to either the foolish or the perverse. Genuine faith can only be exercised in that which is true. A faithful person is a thinking being.
A faithful person is a thinking being.
Faith is not the power of positive thinking, nor does it consist in willing something into existence. Obviously, it’s a good thing to be positive, to be upward-looking, to be optimistic about now and the future. One only has to spend a short time with a naysaying pessimist in order to appreciate being with someone whose words are affirming, enriching, and edifying. But faith is not the power of positive thinking. Nor can one with a positive attitude simply will things into existence.
True faith does not rise or fall with physical, tangible evidence; it cannot be held hostage by the presence or absence of the latest scientific or archaeological discoveries. In speaking of historical analysis, Professor Patrick Mason has written that “there is nothing more unstable than basing one’s life and outlook purely on the latest scholarship, let alone one’s casual perusal of it. What appears to be solid is actually quite transient.” In other words, “scholarship makes for a fairly wobbly foundation upon which to build one’s most profound commitments. I can’t imagine a more maddening life than to rise each morning to consult the learned journals to see what one’s position de jour is.”
I served for a time as the department chair of one of the most brilliant and informed persons I have ever known. Professor Hugh W. Nibley at Brigham Young University was a beloved twentieth defender of the faith. During those years, I came to know something, not only about his mind (which was amazing) but also a great deal about his soul, a man of deep and abiding faith. “[T]he words of the prophets,” he stated, some three-quarters of a century ago, “cannot be held to the tentative and defective tests that men have devised for them. Science, philosophy, and common sense all have a right to their day in court. But the last word does not lie with them. Every time men in their wisdom have come forth with the last word, other words have promptly followed. The last word is a testimony … that comes only by direct revelation. Our Father in Heaven speaks it, and if it were in perfect agreement with the science of today, it would surely be out of line with the science of tomorrow. Let us not, therefore, seek to hold God to the learned opinions of the moment when He speaks the language of eternity.”
In my forty years of teaching university students, serving many years in a pastoral capacity, and as a result of poring over holy scripture, I have come to believe that those who have faith in God have come to trust God. How does one come to trust the Almighty? How, in fact, do we come to trust a fellow mortal? For example, what does it mean to say that I trust my wife, Shauna? Well, to begin with, I trust her in the sense that I know she loves me, that she knows me well enough to understand my heart, my deepest desires, and longings. I trust her in that she knows, only too well, my weaknesses and my inclination to be less than I should be, and yet she regularly displays the patience and long-suffering that is so often required on her part. I trust her because she is ever ready and willing to forgive me. I trust her in that I know I can share my heaviest burdens, my darkest moments, and my lingering doubts and that she will think no less of me. Finally, I trust Shauna because I know that ours is a winning team, that our companionship blesses and elevates my life and makes me so much more, so much better than I would be on my own. Further, I have confidence in her in that I know she will always come through. And Heaven only knows how much I rely on her wisdom and judgment, her discernment, and her unending devotion and loyalty. And so it is with our trust in God.
Reliability: A Measure of Fidelity to God
So to have faith in God, we must come to trust Him, including His purposes for us, even more than our hopes and dreams for ourselves. One religious leader, Neal A. Maxwell, put it this way: “Too often we construe faith in the Lord to mean only the acceptance of His existence, an acknowledgment that He is there. What is wanted, since He is there, is our trust in Him, including His plans for us. Let us not complain of large classes in this mortal school when, at the same time, we consistently decline His offers to tutor us privately.” And, of course, linked closely with trusting His plans for us is trusting in His timetable, which is often different than our own.
Fidelity to God entails reliability on my part. As I grow in faith, I come more and more to trust God, but I also become a person who can be trusted by Him, one who is reliable and dependable. That means that I will be at my duty station when I am called upon to serve and will be available when the call comes to do the difficult or be inconvenienced. If a thousand people of various Christian faiths were asked to choose which of the many qualities and characteristics that Jesus of Nazareth demonstrated stands out to them, I would suppose that the large majority of that congregation of Christ-followers would reply, His love. And if there is one correct answer to that query, it would seem to be how much He loved people. Fidelity to God entails reliability on my part.
Fidelity to God entails reliability on my part.
Some seven hundred years before the coming of Jesus, Isaiah preached and prophesied of a day like our own: “Woe unto them that call evil good, and good evil; that put darkness for light, and light for darkness; that put bitter for sweet, and sweet for bitter! Woe unto them that are wise in their own eyes and prudent in their own sight!” In retrospect, I can look back on my past with deep appreciation, with fond gratitude for men and women of God who set a standard of goodness, an example of nobility toward God that seems more difficult to find in today’s world. That is, with my parents and loved ones, they taught me and showed me what God required of me and what He expected of me. They helped to form and shape my conscience and my spiritual sensibility, to be able to see things as they really are.
Fidelity in a Changing World
Fidelity to God requires that those of us who love God—who treasure His word and are striving to live and abide by those words—stand up and speak out, let our voices be heard. Fidelity requires that we teach and testify of those absolute truths and absolute values that have made our nation great and good through the generations, but, sadly, truths and values that are steadily being pushed to the margins of an increasingly secular society. Our challenge, of course, is to assist those within our society as best we can, as lovingly but persuasively as we can, knowing full well that “if God be for us, who can be against us? Trusting in that sublime promise, we thereby position ourselves to hear, and hopefully for many others to hear, the quiet voice of the Lord whisper reassuringly and from time to time, “This is the way, walk ye in it.”