Having grown up in the Midwest and lived most of my adult life on the East Coast, much of the Mountain West landscape was unknown to me until a few years ago. Yes, I had traveled along the Pacific Coast and throughout much of the Southwest, but I had not been to the “must see” places in this part of the country. After moving here three years ago, I have now been to Zion, Canyonlands, Bryce, and Arches National Parks. I have explored quite a bit of Idaho, from Coeur d’Alene to the Owyhees to Craters of the Moon, but I had not yet seen the Tetons and Yellowstone – that is, until this September.
The Tetons certainly were spectacular, as they seemed to explode out of the surrounding landscape. One of my Teton photographs is now my screensaver. However, Yellowstone captivated me. It is a strange and beautiful other-worldly place. As the crowds gathered to wait for the eruption of Old Faithful, it seemed as if they were entering a church. They sat on benches that almost looked like pews. They got silent. They waited with anticipation until the geyser would once again demonstrate its predictability and display the earth’s strength in a column of steam. Every 60 – 90 minutes, day in and day out, Old Faithful let its faithfulness be known.
The psalmist speaks of God’s faithfulness, often in terms that reference the created world as perceived at that time.
Psalm 37: 8 – 9.
To the psalmist, the earth and the skies, as mysterious as they could be, signified stability and permanence. The mountains were immovable; the clouds and the sky existed morning and night, day after day. God’s faithfulness would endure as long as the heavens and the earth endure, which would be forever.
Yet, as we understand today, the earth and the sun and moon and stars are not as permanent as humankind once thought. Geologists and earth scientists tell us that the conditions that make Yellowstone such a mysterious place will undergo significant changes. It is highly likely that within ten thousand years, Old Faithful will move to the east. The underground “piping” that supplies this geyser will have failed and another, presumably “faithful” geyser will appear. Perhaps using the physical world to describe God’s faithfulness, while helpful, may need revision.
The Book of Lamentations is a series of poems mourning the destruction of the temple in 587 BCE and the siege and destruction of Jerusalem. Chapter 3 voices the desolation of the people and reflects on the disaster they have endured. Yet, even in this time of mourning, the psalmist writes:
The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases; God’s mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is thy faithfulness. “The Lord is my portion,” says my soul, “therefore I will hope in him.”
The People of Israel, despite the tragedy and suffering they had endured and feeling lost and abandoned, nevertheless were able to see through their pain and recognize God’s faithfulness is always with them.
There are many places in the Old Testament that the People of God are reminded of God’s constant presence and faithfulness. The same is true for the New Testament.
During Paul’s missionary journeys throughout the Middle East, he came to Thessalonica, the capital of Macedonia, where he established a ministry. However, he was not able to remain with them so sent Timothy, along with a letter, to the struggling congregation. He urged them to remain true; to “rejoice always and pray constantly;” to “hold fast to what is good, (and) abstain from every form of evil.” I Thessalonians 5: 16-17; 21-22. Finally, he reminded them that the God who calls them into faith is always faithful. I Thessalonians 5:24.
Unfortunately, the congregation in Thessalonica continued to experience opposition. They were challenged on their beliefs and accused of heresy. No wonder their commitment to this new faith waned, so Paul sent Timothy with a letter to once again encourage this new group of Christians. “But the Lord is faithful and will strengthen you and guard you from evil.” II Thessalonians 3:3. I expect that there are times when each of us is challenged in our faith, that belief wanes and that it would be easier to turn away. It is at such times that Paul’s words of God’s everlasting faithfulness offer us shelter and encouragement to go on.
Finally, however, it is to the words of the psalmist that we return, words of poetry that so often can speak more directly and personally to us than prose. In Psalm 33, which is a hymn to God as creator, we are reminded once more that God is faithful, a faithfulness not tied to the strength of the mountains or the depths of the oceans, but to God’s being the Lord of all time and history:
Psalm 33: 4 – 5
There is nothing wrong in having Old Faithful as an image of the faithfulness of God, as it is certainly likely that Old Faithful will live up to its name during our lifetimes. But God’s faithfulness is beyond all things we can imagine. Greater than the mountains and hills, greater than the sun and stars; greater than Old Faithful.
And for that, we say “Thanks be to God.”