If I were asked to name my top ten favorite words or phrases from the Bible, one that would appear near the top of the list would be steadfast love.
It’s a phrase that sounds foreign and antique, but even if our contemporary religious language has left it behind, it still possesses a depth, a rootedness that invites our contemplation. “Deep calls to deep” is the way the psalmist puts it (Ps 42:7) in another antiquated yet resonant clause. Steadfast love is a muscular description of God’s attitude toward God’s children. As such, it deserves a second look.
The more unfamiliar element in the phrase is, of course, steadfast. We understand love (or think we do, anyway), and it continues to be a vital, ever-present part of our collective vocabulary. Steadfast, on the other hand, has fallen out of favor; we rarely speak the word or hear it spoken. It may have been common parlance a century or two ago, but in our time it has virtually disappeared.
This is hardly surprising, considering the state of things these days. From political leaders whose convictions change with the poll numbers to the planned obsolescence of so many consumer products to casual, throwaway relationships, we find precious little steadfastness in our culture. To be steadfast is to be reliable, steady, never-failing. How many of us can honestly claim steadfastness as a prime character trait? How many of us tell the absolute truth in all circumstances? How many of us have never let down a friend or hurt a loved one? Precious few, I would hazard.
But that is what makes steadfast love so special. It combines love, a word and concept we have misused and trivialized almost to the point of meaninglessness, with the rock-solid faithfulness of that old-fashioned word steadfast. It takes our flighty, fickle brand of love and adds a qualifier that changes its meaning and trajectory utterly. We can depend on steadfast love. It is the rock foundation on which we can build a house that will be safe from the storms of life. It is the kind of love we find in 1 Corinthians 13:7—it “bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.” Steadfast describes and defines the love of God.
Advent hope is founded in God’s steadfast love. Not content to let us wander along paths that lead to destruction, God in steadfast love entered creation to show us the way to life. Not willing to leave us orphaned, God in steadfast love promises to bring us to the holy city to drink from the river that flows from the throne of God.
We may be faithless, but God is always faithful. Our love may blow with the wind, may flicker and fade, but God’s love is always steadfast and sure. Let us lift up our hearts and voices to God in praise and gratitude and resolve.
Grace and peace,