Yesterday Jesus said in the Gospel (John 14:23) that “Those who love me will keep my word, and my Father will love them, and we will come to them and make our home with them.” It’s one of those conditional statements that bugs me. If you don’t love Jesus you won’t, but if you do you will.
When I think of promises, I also think of contracts and laws. Contracts as in written agreements with the power of force; laws as in cosmic natural laws such as gravity. Law makes the world ordered; as do promises. They allow us to plan, to have expectations. We have subconscious promises, ones we don’t articulate, but are present in our assumptions and habits.
We can see all sorts of ways people break promises. People leave their marriages. Governments lie about war. Police are on the take, extorting criminals rather than turning them in (I just saw the movie Serpico). Churches can’t extricate the criminals within their orders.
Often people’s words do not fit their actions. Perhaps that’s the truly religious person: one who’s words always match their actions. And maybe that’s why truly religious people are silent.
Some philosophers have argued that hypocrisy is wherever you look for it. It’s the nature of public life that our public proclamations don’t match our private lives. A male politician might be great about supporting women’s issues, but be vile to their spouses. Johnson was a racist, but the president who did the most to change institutionalized racism.
And the brokenness we experience in the natural world happen when different cosmic laws engage. When someone falls to their death, we wish, perhaps, that gravity might not take hold. But then, what would happen if we could not rely on such certainty.
Perhaps the point here is that we make promises not denying that they get broken, but in spite of them. We are given, because we have faith in God’s deep promise – that we know through his cross and resurrection – the power to continue building trust, to continuing uttering words, to continue acting, even though our everyday confidence is a little less arrogant, a little more modest, and little more humble. We might find ourselves in positions where we do break our promises. But if we love one another, if we maintain our honesty, if we do not flee from the consequences, and if we accept our flaws with generosity, and trust that we can each do better, we may still taste how God continues to have confidence in us.
In the Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, Aslan makes a promise to the Witch. But the altar is broken due to the deeper promise, one based on sacrifice, which is known in the world. By raising it, God reveals his trump card. We can trust in Jesus.
But what does this obscure code mean? I suspect it means something like this: we don’t give up. We don’t give up on one another. We don’t give up on our families; we don’t give up on our communities; we don’t give up on our governments or our churches. In spite of our diminished expectations we find ways to move, to act, with the confidence we have. Whatever promises are broken shall always be trumped by the promise we believe God has made in us. And when our words match our actions, it may not merely be silence, but also the expression of our vitality; the simple witness that He Is.