How Faithful is Old Faithful?

It was our first visit to Yellowstone National Park, and we had been waiting 45 minutes for the geyser to erupt. My three children had lost interest in the geyser a long time ago, and my wife and I had struggled to keep them on the boardwalk. I had explained how geysers work and told my children all about the volcanic origins of Yellowstone Park; but to my preschoolers, the inactivity was more of a burden than they were willing to bear. "How much longer, Daddy?" my oldest daughter asked. I looked at my watch and saw that it was 2:47 and the schedule posted near the boardwalk said 2:48 was the next expected eruption time. "If you count to 60, the geyser should blow by the time you get to 60," I replied.

I heard her start counting as I took off after my son who had decided to build a sand castle in the geyserite minerals near the walk. By the time I got Tim back on the boardwalk, my daughter had reached 150 and was counting out loud, projecting the numbers toward me and carefully articulating them so that everyone in the area could hear her. A ranger happened by at that time, and I commented, "The Geyser is a little late, isn't it?" "Yep--Old Faithful is just sort of faithful," the ranger said. I silenced Cathy by talking about the animals we would see on the way home and stood up to look at the geyser.

Suddenly a gurgling noise came from the opening and water splashed out. This was followed by a loud whoosh as steam and boiling water shot into the air. Both of my girls ran to me while Tim stood up and waved his hands at the geyser, happily laughing at the sound and feeling the rush of air that followed the water into the air. We were all awed by the eruption, and when it finally settled down and the gurgling stopped, both girls wanted "to do it again." The next eruption was right on time, and we left Old Faithful enthralled at the beauty of the spectacle we had just seen. For years after that trip, every time I talked about Old Faithful, my children would remind me that the geyser is only "sort of faithful." Lots of things can change the regularity of its eruptions--weather, geologic activity in the area, erosion of vents, etc. Over the long haul, there will be major changes in the geyser's eruptions as the molten rock that generates the steam to fuel the geyser cools and as tectonic activity changes the vent systems.

Being faithful carries an air of uncertainty in the physical world. Even the laws of science predict that eventually all things in the cosmos will fail. Astronomers talk about heat death when they discuss stars. Chemists talk about entropy and activation energy when they talk about chemical reactions. Physicists talk about the second law of thermodynamics when they discuss the relationships between work and heat. In recent years, we have even come to understand that the building blocks of atoms can decay. Protons, for example, seem to eventually break down into more fundamental building blocks of matter. Even the shape of space itself can be shown to end in the singularity called a black hole. All of this is in simple conformity to the second law of thermodynamics which says that everything in the cosmos moves toward a condition of disorder or heat death. Isaiah put it like this:

Lift up your eyes to the heavens, and look upon the earth beneath: for the heavens shall vanish away like smoke, and the earth shall wax old like a garment, and they that dwell therein shall die in like manner: but my salvation shall be forever, and my righteousness shall not be abolished (Isaiah 51:6).

If faithfulness is so impossible, how can we believe that God is faithful? How can we expect faithfulness in our marriage? How can we possibly be faithful to God as we are commanded? In God's case, the answer lies in the nature of God. All of the cases of unfaithfulness in the previous descriptions were time-dependent. Old Faithful, erosion, geologic activity, chemical reactions, entropy, the second law, heat death, etc., all depend upon time. If time did not pass, none of these examples of breakdown in faithfulness would occur. God is outside of time. Being outside of time, there can be no breach of fidelity. Every promise or action of God is sure and invariant unless He chooses to put it into a time frame of reference. That is why we read in Hebrews 13:8 that Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever. In 1 Corinthians 10:13, the statement "...God is faithful, who will not suffer you to be tempted above that ye are are able; but will with the temptation also make a way to escape, that ye may be able to bear it " rests in the context of a God who has access to all points in time and space equally (see 2 Peter 3:8).

What about faithfulness in our marriages and in our relationships to God? We are time-dependent so the time element is an issue. The key understanding here is the meaning of the word "faithful." We must not confuse faithfulness with perfection.

To be faithful, one must maintain a commitment. I am faithful to my wife. To this date, I have never attached myself to another woman and breached my wedding vows. It is within my power to be faithful. To be unfaithful would be a deliberate, conscious, voluntary act that I do as an expression of my free will. I would have to deliberately violate the vow I made and consciously engage in an act that breached our relationship to be unfaithful. I am not perfect to my wife. There are times when I treat her badly, sin against her, fail to do what I promised to do, and even consciously do something that hurts her to the point of tears. There have been times when I have been cruel, dishonest, abusive, insensitive, unreliable, callous, denigrating, chauvinistic, sarcastic, arrogant, selfish, demanding, unforgiving, etc., but I have never been unfaithful.

In the same way, I have been faithful to God, but not perfect. Everything I have done to my wife, I have done to my God, but I have never been unfaithful to Him either. God knows it is not within my ability to be perfect, for He says, "All have sinned, and come short of the glory of God" (Romans 3:23). God also provides for my lack of perfection by the continuing action of the blood of Christ (1 John 1:7) and tells us "there is therefore now no condemnation to them who are in Christ Jesus..." (Romans 8:1).

We can be faithful to death (Revelation 2:10), but we will never be perfect.

                            --John N. Clayton

Back to Contents Does God Exist?, Jul/Aug 1996