Good people and good things
Ecclesiastes 8: I’m still convinced that the good life is reserved for the person who fears God…and that the evil person will not experience the “good” life.
The conventional wisdom of Solomon’s day (and it is often still conventional wisdom today) is that bad people have bad things happen to them and good people have good things happen to them. In his wisdom Solomon sees considerable evidence that this approach isn’t true. He sees wicked people live pretty nice lives and he even attends some funerals in which it appears that the person “got away with it” — living an evil life yet having everything a person could ask for right to the very end. He has plenty of evidence that the common belief of “bad gets bad and good gets good” doesn’t really work. Still, though, he can’t quite give up on it. While he can’t prove that it’s true, he can’t shake the belief that there’s some truth in this philosophy. He reports, “I’m still convinced….” Today, I think Solomon is right to hang on to this belief. It doesn’t play out as he thought it would but I agree with him that serving God has great advantages. It isn’t that those who trust God have more money and better health but in the intangibles of life there are riches for God’s people. There’s wealth in going to sleep at night knowing that no matter what tomorrow brings things will be okay. There’s wealth in being at peace with God and there’s wealth in knowing one is a child of the King. I believe the conventional wisdom is both right and wrong. It’s right in its belief that good things happen to good people. It’s wrong in having such a narrow and material view of just what those good things are.
Take Away: In the intangibles of life there are riches for God’s people.
Job 42: God restored his fortune — and then doubled it all.
Some people, probably the same ones who question Elihu’s contribution to the book of Job, question the conclusion of the book. They think it’s possibly an after-the-fact addition made by someone who felt the book was incomplete without Job’s restoration. Happily, as a devotional writer, I don’t have to take a stand on that. Instead, I can simply read and respond. I do understand where they’re coming from though. The main question, “will a man serve God for nothing” has been answered. The secondary issue, the question of human suffering, hasn’t been answered. Rather I’ve been taken in an unexpected direction to an unexpected conclusion. To finish the story with Job getting everything back does nothing to help us with either of the two primary issues raised in Job’s story. But again, I’m thinking devotionally here and not dealing so much with this sticky issue. So, what’s going on here? I believe that the reason Job is fully restored is that everything is taken from him for unnatural reasons. His loss of family, wealth, and health don’t “just happen.” They happen because Satan is given permission to take them from him. Once the test is over, that permission is withdrawn and God acts to return things to how they were. In other words, these are extraordinary circumstances all the way around. Most of the bad things that happen to us aren’t a result of Satan’s meddling in our lives. After all, it rains on the just and the unjust. We may be tested by such things, but they aren’t Satan-designed tests. Instead, they’re just life. That means that I can’t read the ending of the book of Job and conclude that if I handle my current difficulty of life okay I’ll get it all back, maybe double! When life “happens” and the plug is pulled simply because I live in a world where bad things happen to people, there’s no guarantee that, if I handle it well, it will all come back to me.
Take Away: This is an extraordinary story and we have to be careful to not take the more outstanding elements of it and conclude that that’s how things always are.
1Kings 10: King Solomon was wiser and richer than all the kings of the earth.
Literally, it’s the golden age. Each day dignitaries arrive at Jerusalem, each bringing valuable gifts for Solomon. They all want to experience Solomon, a human wonder of the earth. Israel is poised to be a world power for generations to come and every national leader willingly bows to Solomon’s wisdom knowing that the overflow of his prosperity is beneficial to them too. This may be the finest picture in the Bible of God’s temporal blessings. The Lord does, indeed, know how to shower worldly blessings on people and in this case, his intention is to establish Israel forever in this land promised their ancestor Abraham hundreds of years earlier. You and I know this isn’t going to last. Before the children of Israel ever set foot in the Promised Land Moses described for them the “blessing and the curse.” If they obey the result is, well, what we see in this chapter. If they disobey…sad to say, to see the results we just have to keep reading. I see here God’s desire and intention. He likes blessing us. For the past 2000 years he’s been preparing a place for us that will make Solomon’s Jerusalem look poor in comparison. I understand that not all of God’s blessings are in the health and wealth category, but this chapter of the Bible gives me a glimpse of what he can do, and what he plans to do, if I’ll just cooperate with him.
Take Away: Thank the Lord for his good will, for his grace, and, yes, for his many blessings to us; all undeserved and all humbly appreciated.
How much I have and how much does what I have have me
Luke 8: There were also some women in their company.
The ministry of Jesus is in full swing here in the North. Jesus teaches, heals, and performs other miracles. He’s now traveling from place to place leading a large band of dedicated followers. Of course, we see the disciples in that number but also several women are in his entourage. These women, we’re told, have stories of deliverance to tell. They’re also major financial supporters of this ministry. I think it’s instructive to remember this as I read later on of Jesus telling the rich young ruler to give it all away and then follow. Apparently, these women are, at the same time, wealthy and followers of Jesus. They haven’t been instructed to give it all away. As I think about this I realize that the problem isn’t how much money the young man has, but is, rather, how much the money has the young man. These women who accompany Jesus use their resources for his work. I think it’s important to realize the balance that’s required of us who follow the Lord. Anything that comes between him and me needs to be cast off. All else is to be laid at the feet of Jesus, a part of my living my life in him.
Take Away: Having money isn’t the big deal. The big deal is when my money has me.