When I was younger, I was a socially awkward kid. Instead of blaming my limited social life on my own interpersonal shortcomings, I mostly decided that I had few friends because I was so holy and the other kids were just intimidated by me. Although I don’t remember the exact thoughts in my head, there was one day I must have been verbally patting myself on the back about my moral superiority, congratulating myself on resisting the siren calls of sex, drugs, and rock and roll. (To be fair, none of those things were ever offered to me, but again, I told myself it was because the other kids already knew my answer and didn’t want to waste their time.) Anyway, I must have been waxing rhapsodic about my wonderful powers of resistance and holiness, because my dad joined the conversation and stopped me cold.
He said that it WAS good that I was refraining from participating in bad activities, but it wasn’t enough. You don’t get into heaven just by avoiding everything bad, although that’s good too. If you want to really be righteous, my dad told me, you also had to actively do and be good.
His thought took the wind right out of my sails. All that time I’d been feeling like I was doing everything right, but it turned out I’d just been not doing a few things wrong. True godliness requires action. This concept, this focus on doing rather than on avoiding is one of the aspects that draws me to True to the Faith.
We start out with the negatives: Will the church waver in its defense of goodness? Will be we cowards? No! Will we leave the church, even when the going gets tough? No! It’s important stuff, but it’s the baseline.
The real meat comes in the last two verses, when we get to the positives. By this point, we’re not dealing in questions, we’re making flat-out assertions. We’re going to put in the work and be saved. We’re going to stick with the truth. We’re going to watch for and pray to God, we’re going to work, and we’re going to do it enthusiastically. Yes! We’re going to try to be worthy of heaven. We expect to be saved with the faithful of generations past. Yes!
The move from avoiding the negative to achieving the positive is a good choice on many levels. It means I’m not just playing defense, keeping the baddies from scoring a goal in my area. Instead, it’s taking the offense, and helping my team to get ahead. It makes me a contributor instead of someone who’s content to coast and go along for the ride.
It also makes me more compassionate. Now that I’m not looking at others to see how I’m better than they are, I can rejoice in the great things they do and can teach me. I’m happier and nicer to be around, and I get more out of my friendships and acquaintances. I build others up, and they build me up in return. I don’t think righteousness is a zero-sum game. We can all be winners together. As a bonus, I’m not such a pill anymore, and I might actually get the chance to turn down drugs or inappropriate sex one of these days (I’ve fallen victim to rock and roll, though, and I don’t plan to give it up).
That brings me back to the negatives. Though we must do and achieve good things through the gospel, we can’t give up on those negatives. It is not acceptable to stop defending truth, just because we’re trying to be personally worthy. We shouldn’t leave the church, just because we know we’ll someday be part of a heavenly community of great followers of Christ.
We strive for a balance of action and inaction, achievement and resistance. Though they seem like opposites, in reality, the two sides are interconnected. Taoism might describe this interplay as yin and yang (or rather, yang and yin). Though I doubt True to the Faith will become a popular Taoist hymn, I think it fits. Two forces, one positive, one negative, that both work together seamlessly to meet a greater goal. Whatever you call it, I’m glad my father pointed out my imbalance when I was a child, and I’m glad I’ve also learned not to still value those basic negative virtues, even as I strive for positive accomplishment.