In Holy Scripture, faith and faithfulness manifest in similar fashions and are both placed at the nexus of the relationship between God, Christ and humanity. For various reasons, the theological notion of faith is a central axiom in Christian doctrine (see Ephesians 2:8, Romans 3:22, 4:22 etc). This spans across the spectrum of confessional traditions and church branches. Since the Reformation, faith has generally been associated with cognitive or mental “beliefs” about God and Jesus. In this monograph, we’d like to draw out some of the other components of faith, namely, faithfulness and trust.
Faithfulness is a fundamental characteristic of God and the commitment to His own covenantal promises. This is demonstrated most fully in Christ’s faithful obedience to fulfill God’s redemptive purposes for humanity. The scope of salvation entails our response to Christ’s faithfulness through the exercise of faith. So what do we know about faith?
Firstly, we know that faith is the hope of things unseen (Hebrews 11:1). Secondly, we know that faith is a gift through God’s grace (Ephesians 2:8). While a gift is not of our own making, it nonetheless requires our response, our cooperation and our participation. The choice to receive this gift and to truly take it to heart is predicated upon our ability to trust and to act upon that foundation of trust. And so we know that faith and by extension, trust, are both internal and external. This assertion is augmented by the extensive research which establishes the usage of faith (or pistis) in the Greco-Roman world. In short, pistis carried strong connotations of fidelity, loyalty, allegiance, obedience and trust. It was not simply the inner cognitive exercise of belief, but the outer expression of faithfulness. So, there is a strong sense in which faith and faithfulness are interchangeable. While human faithfulness can only mirror divine faithfulness to the extent of our limited and broken nature, we are called nonetheless back into communion with the triune God through union with Christ and his ways. This is the true essence of faith. To trust and to be faithful. That faithfulness will in turn catalyze and birth trust in others.
The implications of these principles are well illustrated in practice through Jesus’ dialogue with the woman at the well in John 4. Here we find a beautiful example of how to build trust through faithful living. Christ’s interaction with the Samaritan woman, “chronicles ethnic prejudice and a woman shunned by her community.” Within a short period of time, Jesus breaches several cultural expectations which created barriers across ethnic and gender lines. Despite the startling nature of such “transgressions” against societal norms, the woman draws closer to Jesus rather than distancing herself or capitulating to suspicion and fear. In doing so, the woman at the well begins to exercise the first steps of faith, that is to say, trust. This trust is shown to be a mutual necessity between Jesus and the Samaritan woman. Christ manifests faithfulness by bringing the good news of his gospel to the woman. There is a degree of faith (or trust) exerted on his part, because it takes a degree of hope and trust in order to pursue anything worthy of doing. In short, Jesus’ words and deeds in John 4 are preceded by the seeds of trust which are actualized in word and deed. The Samaritan woman’s response imitates this same trust and faithfulness. As her wonder and amazement at Christ’s words evolves into a growing sense of trust that he is the Messiah, we see a pattern of faith emerge. Notice how trust begins with risk. The risk of entering the unknown (i.e. dialogue with a stranger). Secondly, we see that curiosity serves as a building block for trust as the Samaritan woman and Jesus ask various questions of each other which helps bridge the chasm of the unknown (or the differences which separate these two figures). And so, John 4 provides us with a model example of faith & faithfulness in action, which catalyzes the bonds of trust between individuals.
This same pattern of faith is carried on by the Samaritan woman as she eagerly journeys back to the same town which has likely treated her as an outcast. In excitement, she shares her testimony, leading many more Samaritans to believe (John 4:39). In doing this, the woman exemplifies all of the same elements found in her interaction with Jesus at the well. Thus, the pattern of faith and trust described and demonstrated at the well creates a ripple effect of faithfulness and trust.
As we conclude, I’d like you to think about faith or faithfulness in the context of any friendship or relationship. One can believe ideas about a friend or a significant other, but mental trust, loyalty and fidelity are meaningless if they don’t coincide with outward expression. One must trust and be faithful in the fullness of their mind and body. Word and deed must be harmonized. However, when what we say and what we do are at odds, trust is shattered. We see this in many communities and in all kinds of relationships. In the relationships between victims and offenders. In the relationships between law enforcement and the community. In the relationship between women and men. In the relationship between the Church and those who have left it. In the relationship between the correctional system and those who have been incarcerated. In the relationship between the government and its people. And these are just some examples.
In all of these pairings, there is a state of broken trust that generally characterizes the relational dynamics. The trust deficiencies are often a product of long-term trauma. All of these relationships should be imbued with mutual trust, accountability and responsibility. But social contracts and promises are all too often breached or broken. Harm is inflicted where harmony and healing should be present. Because of this trust becomes understandably sparse and past experiences interfere with future situations and relations. The question becomes; how can trust be not just returned, but holistically restored. Psychological commentary on how to rebuild trust provides potential procedures and solutions, but the short answer brings us back to the story of the woman at the well, which teaches us that trust requires authenticity, curiosity and vulnerability. Consider the following:
One major finding of this extensive, multidisciplinary behavioral science research is that the ability to trust requires an acceptance of vulnerability. In fact, scholars have defined trust as a psychological state in which a person is willing to be vulnerable because he or she expects the intentions or behavior of another to be positive. Trust can thus entail high stakes, particularly when vested in powerful entities such as institutions and when people aware of past misconduct have good reasons to be wary of over trusting the authorities in their communities (O’ Brien & Tyler, pg. 36).
In reentry services, trust is hard to come by. The individuals who exit prison do so in various states of mental, emotion and spiritual health. They’ve broken trust with themselves and with others. In some cases, they’ve also been victims themselves and thus maintain degrees of suspicion and mistrust towards others. In fact, something like 97% of imprisoned individuals have trauma from one or more “Adverse Childhood Experience” (ACE). This adverse trauma has a strong correlation with the potential for future criminal behavior and incarceration. This illustrates how cycles of abuse (and by extension distrust) are perpetuated.
The likelihood of successfully avoiding recidivism is something that reentry programs contribute significantly towards. Even so, establishing trust between a program and a new participant is a slow and challenging process. Creating an environment and culture where trust is the natural state of affairs is a priority for rehabilitation and reintegration. Authentic vulnerability is fostered when an individual knows that they can open up and that it is a safe environment to be completely honest about themselves and their past. The ability to do so begins with simple conversations like that between Jesus and the Samaritan woman. When a staff and a program participant engage in a conversation, there is always a door that opens for mutual vulnerability to flow. Opportunities present themselves in such settings and ultimately, trust becomes both the means and the continuous goal.
Trust is a process and it is a product. It is internal and external. It is a manifestation of faithfulness, that is to say, the concrete actions of character and the treatment of others. Jesus manifested faith through a posture of vulnerability and curiosity by bringing himself into proximity with the woman through the simple, yet profound fact of his presence and the exchange of a few words. When we choose to do the same with a stranger, we emulate the same pattern of the Samaritan woman, forging a trail forward through the fog of mistrust, hurt and brokenness with the light of trust upon our countenance, walking with others out of the haze and into the freedom of a life defined by faith.
Chalamet, Christophe. “Divine and Human Faithfulness as a Key Theme of Barth’s Theological Revolution.” Zeitschrift für Dialektische Theologie 32, no. 1 (2016): 14-38.
Chiraparamban, Varghese P. “The Translation of Πίστις and Its Cognates in the Pauline Epistles.” Sage Journal (The Bible Translator) 66, no. 2 (2015): 176-189.
Johnson, Steven. A History of Trust in Ancient Greece. Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press, 2011.
Morgan, Teresa. Roman Faith and Christian Faith: Pistis and Fides in the Early Roman Empire and Early Churches. Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press, 2015.
O’ Brien C., Thomas and Tom R. Tyler. “Rebuilding Trust Between Police and Communities Through Procedural Justice & Reconciliation.” Behavioral Science & Policy 5, no. 1 (2019): 35-50.
Wardlaw, Terry. “A Reappraisal of ‘From Faith to Faith’ (Romans 1:17).” EJT 21, no. 2 (2012): 107-119.
Zavada, Jack. “The Woman at the Well Bible Story Study Guide: Learn How Jesus shocked the Woman at the Well with His Loving Acceptance.” (November 2020). https://www.learnreligions.com/woman-at-the-well-700205.