Monday, October 12, 2015

Earning Blessing

For this week's newspapers, I answered a question about whether faith or obedience are able to earn blessing from God: 

Q:  Does God grant earthly blessings to people based on the sincerity of their faith, and does He bless Christians with health, wealth, or other prosperity based on the degree to which they obey Him?

It would be easy to make conclusions that God’s blessings in this world depend on the performance of the individuals receiving them, because such a conclusion would fit with the majority of religious thought that has taken place around the world throughout history, and would fit with the way that we are used to things working among humans in business and commerce. 

However, no matter how reasonable this conclusion seems in light of our earthly experience with other authorities, the Lord who has revealed Himself as the Trinity of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit does not operate on those same principles. 

When various religions make propositions about earning a god’s blessing, they are operating under the assumption of a deity that does not desire to do good to us, but that we need to achieve a certain level of obedience in order to force his hand.  On the other hand, the God of the Bible is consistently portrayed as one who desires to give and to bless, and we are undeserving recipients of His gracious gifts. 

This is particularly true in spiritual matters, where God forgives sins as a pure gift because of the crucified sacrifice of Jesus, but it also applies to the many earthly blessings over which we have limited control, such as weather, the growth of crops, or good health.  Jesus comments on this with His words in Matthew 5 that God makes the sun to shine on both the evil and the good and the rain to fall on the righteous and the unrighteous alike. 

We can also observe that in this life, those whose faith appears deepest do not always experience perfect health or abundant wealth.  Instead, they may sometimes suffer more than others while those who commit vile acts seem to prosper.  Many of the heroes of the Bible are perfect examples of this, as the Apostles and Prophets often faced fierce opposition and the majority of them died for their faith rather than experiencing earthly success. 

There is one sense in which this is true, but it functions in a natural way rather than a supernatural one.  This is because the creator of the world in which we live is also the giver of the laws by which we are commanded to live in it.  As a result, a great deal of suffering and tragedy can be avoided when God’s laws are obeyed.  So, for example, the God who created nature, the body, and family relationships gives laws which, if obeyed, would allow a person to avoid many conflicts, diseases and disorders, while the probability of numerous natural consequences increases dramatically when a person chooses to depart from that law. 

Ultimately, understanding this truth may help a person avoid a great deal of false guilt that might arise if they did live faithfully yet see their desires unfulfilled or find themselves experiencing suffering or tragedy.  It also serves to remind us that as long as we live in this world, our obedience will remain imperfect and we will still face trials and suffering, but we look forward with hope to a resurrected life which we receive as pure gift and in which these things will be no more.  Even though the promises we do see of abundance and prosperity in Scripture are left partially and unevenly fulfilled in this world, they will be fully and completely fulfilled in the New Creation to come. 

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