(…continued) The little story in yesterday’s meditation provides a simple response to a very complex question. It is not a complete response, and much more needs to be said; but it does point to at least a part of the answer. The man on the street had long and messy hair because he did not go to a barber to do anything about it. In the same way, many of the troubles in our world and in our lives are the result of not coming to God, not obeying his command, not seeking his guidance, and not taking comfort in his promises. There is a connection between what we believe, and, how we live and what happens to us and how much we suffer. This is not a direct connection. The book of Job, many Psalms, the life and words of Jesus, and many other sections of the Bible make it clear that the correlation is not a precise one. So to say that there is a connection is not to say that those in the hospital are less godly than those who are healthy, or, that the wealthier you are the more faithful you are. Many times the wicked do prosper and many other times the good and righteous do suffer.
But the Bible also makes it clear that there definitely is some connection. Much of the suffering in the world is indeed brought on by people ignoring God and his commands. Greed leads nations into war and makes individuals lie to and cheat each other. Lust can break up homes and families and lead to terrible crimes. Lying destroys the trust necessary for decent public life and personal relationships. Lack of gratitude makes contentment impossible and destroys peace of mind. Lack of faith leaves one without hope for the future, without a firm foundation for life, and without the most perfect source of strength to endure life’s inevitable hardships.
On the other hand, those who do believe in and obey God do avoid of much that could cause them pain, and, at the same time, they do experience many blessings of God because of that obedience. Honesty leads to better relationships and greater confidence public institutions. A spirit of unselfish good will leads to the ability for nations and individuals to settle their disputes peacefully. Mutual forgiveness moves people toward reconciliation instead of unending hate and bitterness. And faith in God gives one the strength to endure even life’s greatest tragedies with courage, along with an eternal hope that nothing in this life can destroy. Life is best lived when it is lived with God and in accordance with his commandments.
In Jeremiah 17 God says: “Cursed is the one … whose heart turns away from the Lord. He will be like a brush in the wastelands; he will not see prosperity when it comes. He will dwell in parched places of the desert, in a salt land where no one lives.” That’s poetic language describing how things will not go well for the one whose heart turns away from the Lord. “But,” it goes on to say, “Blessed is the man who does trust in the Lord and whose confidence is in Him. He will be like a tree planted by the water that sends out its roots by the stream. It does not fear when the heat comes, and its leaves are always green. It has no worries in a year of drought and it never fails to bear fruit.”
Then Jeremiah states his point bluntly when he says, “The Lord searches the heart and examines the mind, in order to reward a man according to his conduct, according to what his deeds deserve.” Jesus also talks about rewards for righteousness, saying, “Rejoice in that day and leap for joy, because great is your reward in heaven.” We don’t want to leave it at that. The Bible itself doesn’t leave it at that, but adds some important clarifications and qualifications. But neither do we want to disregard this message. These are God’s own words, here, and in many other books of the Bible. God’s Word says that there are some connections between how we live and the blessings or troubles that we receive.
God created this life and designed this world. His commandments are instructions on how our lives can be best lived in this world that he has created for us. When we sin and break those commandments, we bring trouble onto ourselves and others. In the same way, trouble and sadness come to us by the sins of others.
In the early chapters of Genesis we also learn that when sin came into the world, all of creation became tainted. Now, tragedy can strike randomly by illness, bad weather, or freak accidents. These tragedies are not the result of anyone’s particular sin, but result from the general presence of sin in the world, as we all together share in the guilt of a fallen creation.
Both the barber and the customer saw the same sad world. The barber saw the suffering of the world as proof that God did not exist. The customer saw that same suffering as the result of a world full of people that have turned away from God and the goodness he had intended for us. If we had nowhere else to look at other than at the world, we would have no way to decide between the two opinions. Any solid and true answer to this question has to come from God himself.
God has given us that answer in the person of Jesus Christ. In Christ, we believe we have the presence of God. In Jesus, we see both the suffering of the world that the barber could not ignore, and the restoration of God’s creation to all who will believe.
II Corinthians 5:19a — God was in Christ reconciling the world to himself.
Romans 8:18-19 — I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us. For the creation waits in eager expectation for the children of God to be revealed.
Psalm 1:1-3a — Blessed is the one who does not walk in step with the wicked or stand in the way that sinners take or sit in the company of mockers, but whose delight is in the law of the Lord, and who meditates on his law day and night. That person is like a tree planted by streams of water.