The following first appeared in Public Square Magazine.

Fidelity is not a word that gets a lot of daily usage. According to Google Books Ngram Finder, its usage, when written all lowercase (fidelity), declined more or less steadily from 1800 until around 2000, when the curve turned slightly upward. Written with an initial capital (Fidelity) it saw very little usage until the 1880s, when it climbed to a peak around 1920, and has now returned to the original very low level.

The peak may be because there was a time when “Fidelity” appeared often in the names of things like banks and insurance companies. In the classic 1960s movie musical Mary Poppins, the name of the bank where George Banks was employed combined fidelity with fiduciary (as in the Dawes Tomes Mousley Grubbs Fidelity Fiduciary Bank—it made great lyrics). Both words were intended to communicate faithfulness in stewardship over someone else’s resources.

Faithfulness may be the most common synonym of fidelity, and we frequently use the adjective form—faithful. In Latter-day Saint scripture, God often speaks of those who are faithful, promising them a long list of happy outcomes. These range from obtaining a land of promise to being preserved and protected, having God’s spirit poured out, having great cause to rejoice, being encircled in the arms of God’s love, and—in case anything seems left out—being blessed in all things, both temporal and spiritual.

[perfectpullquote align=”left” bordertop=”false” cite=”” link=”” color=”” class=”” size=””]Fidelity to God also includes believing that nothing God can ask is too much.[/perfectpullquote]

The adjective ‘faithful’ usually takes us to the noun ‘faith.’ We speak of having faith, and particularly having faith in something or, more importantly, someone. Christians profess faith in Jesus Christ, and people of other religious persuasions speak of faith in God, even if they call God by another name.

Since faith and fidelity are two derivatives of the same Latin root,  it might seem like they are interchangeable, but grammatically, that turns out not to be the case. When we speak of having ‘faith,’ we talk of ‘faith in God,’ and when we speak of ‘fidelity,’ we talk of ‘fidelity to God.’ Both phrases might be described by the word ‘faithful,’ and yet there are subtle differences we can explore that may inspire and enrich our relationship with God.

It is worth noting that the long list of happy outcomes referred to earlier is entirely from Latter-day scriptural uses of the word faithful, where the word describes people who believe the prophets, believe in and trust the atonement of Jesus Christ, and keep God’s commandments.  In the Bible, on the other hand, the word faithful is very often used to describe Jesus Christ or God, as in “Sara judged him faithful who had promised.” A few others are also described as faithful.

These descriptions render Jesus and these others as exemplars of what it means to be faithful, particularly when the word ‘faithful’ seems to lean into ‘fidelity.’ Each one clearly has faith in God, but they also demonstrate fidelity—to God, to His plan, and to His children.

Consider the following scriptural phrases.  They are admittedly taken out of context, but hopefully in a way that sharpens the focus on what they can teach us about the interplay of fidelity and faith.

Faithful Abraham

In chapter 3 of his epistle to the Galatians, Paul invokes Abraham and the promises made to him as part of his plea to the Galatians to turn from their apparent preoccupation with the law and to see more clearly the importance of their faith in Christ.  He refers, at one point, to “faithful Abraham,” having noted earlier that Abraham “believed God, and it was accounted to him for righteousness.”

When we recall the times of which we have record when Abraham was called upon to believe God, there are several that might strain anyone’s credulity, but one quintessential pair has become almost iconic: first, when God promised a child to Abraham in his old age and, second, its ironic companion, when God asked Abraham to offer that child’s life as a sacrifice. Abraham teaches us that fidelity to God entails believing that with God, nothing is impossible. However, that does not mean that God will make possible every desire that occurs to us in a fallen mortal world. What it does mean is that when God offers us more than seems reasonable in a fallen mortal world, we can—and, in fidelity, must—believe Him and act accordingly.

Further, Abraham teaches us that fidelity to God also includes believing that nothing God can ask is too much. I recall reading a critique of the Abraham story by a scholar who insisted that a loving God would never ask Abraham to sacrifice his living, breathing son, the son he knew and loved. One response to that critique is that Abraham knew and loved God just as he knew and loved his son. It can be the same with us. That business of knowing God is crucial to believing God.  When God asks of us more than seems reasonable in a fallen mortal world, we may falter—or even fail—to offer what He asks if we have not come to know and love Him.

A solitary flower stands resilient against harsh winds and dark clouds, its radiant halo symbolizing unwavering fidelity to God even amidst life's storms.
We can blossom in any environment when we maintain fidelity to God.

Faithful witness

In Revelation, John’s salutation “to the seven churches in Asia” includes a reference to “Jesus Christ, who is the faithful witness.” In his inspired translation of the Bible, Joseph Smith makes an interesting change that names John as the ‘faithful witness.’ This makes sense since, in a preceding verse, John describes himself as one “who bare record of the word of God, and of the testimony of Jesus Christ, and of all things that he saw.” One might also say that he was one who stood as a witness of God “at all times and in all things, and in all places.”

If, then, we take John to be a ‘faithful witness,’ he teaches us that fidelity to God involves saying what we know and what we have seen. One can infer a caution that we distinguish between what we see and what we only speculate and actually do not know. Additionally entailed is an implicit reminder that we cannot, in fidelity, bear false witness, whether about God or about our neighbor.  And finally, we are led back to knowing God, for we cannot bear witness of a God we do not know.

Jesus Christ, the Faithful and Just

Though there are scholars who may disagree, tradition has it that the same ‘faithful witness’ of the book of Revelation is the author of the three small books of John that are letters. In the first letter, he offers us two additional insights into fidelity.

The first is in his description of a central message he learned from his time with Jesus:

This then is the message which we have heard of him, and declare unto you, that God is light, and in him is no darkness at all. If we say that we have fellowship with him, and walk in darkness, we lie, and do not the truth.

In just those few words, John teaches us that fidelity is not only saying but also doing the truth.  Here, we confront the difference between a kind of cognitive ‘knowing’ that does not change us much and the kind of deep, relational, heart-felt knowing that transforms us. I would suggest that most of us have both kinds of knowledge about important things, and John seems to urge us toward the deep kind of knowing God. Through this type of knowing, we can truly have fellowship with Him and partake of His light.

[perfectpullquote align=”right” bordertop=”false” cite=”” link=”” color=”” class=”” size=””]Fidelity is not only saying but also doing the truth.[/perfectpullquote]

The second message is in John’s description of Jesus as “faithful and just to forgive our sins.”   Jesus teaches us, as only He can, that fidelity to God means persisting, or ‘enduring to the end,’ in our participation in His plan. When we acknowledge that Jesus did what He promised He would do, it reasonably follows that to be ‘faithful’ and ‘just,’ we forgive the sins of anyone who may have sinned against us or against those we love. Fidelity to God requires that we forgive.

Jesus Christ, The Merciful and Faithful 

Another description of Christ emerges when Paul writes in Hebrews that “in all things, it behooved him to be made like unto his brethren, that he might be a merciful and faithful high priest.” While we do not have Christ’s role as a high priest, all of us are doing what we do in the context of relationships with others and that means that what we do is always making a difference.

Here, Jesus teaches us that fidelity to God is expressed in a being “made like unto” those around us, which seems to suggest never seeing ourselves—or others—as “less.”  It suggests seeking experiences that expand our understanding of what we have in common with others as children of God. Perhaps we can tell if we are succeeding if we find ourselves being more “merciful and faithful” in our relationships with the people we see and sometimes struggle with the most.

A Final Phrase to Aspire to

Perfect fidelity to God is a tall order for mere mortals.  Still, He is our Father and, childlike, we cannot help longing for Him, however clumsily we may act that out in mortality.  If we can discern the longing behind the clumsiness, that longing for God keeps us moving toward Him. It increases our fidelity to Him and our faith in the atoning power of Jesus Christ in the line-upon-line way He planned for us. The more we know Him, the more we want to be with Him. “He is Lord of lords, King of kings, and they that are with him are … faithful.”