If you’ve been a Christian for any amount of time, you’ve heard a sermon on storms.
You know, storms. Not storms of the weather variety, but storms as a synonym for trials, tribulations, suffering. You’ve probably heard sermons about people who have cancer and who have lost children. You’ve read heart-wrenching tragedies where people have lost everything. And in all of our talk about storms and tribulations, we Christians rightfully work out a handy truism:
“Suffering, tragedy, and trials do not equal God’s lack of love or favor.”
Jesus points this out Himself when talking to the disciplines about a blind man (John 9:2-3). When the disciples ask Jesus who sinned – implying that the man’s blindness is a divine punishment or a form of God’s displeasure – Jesus’ response is simple:
“Neither this man nor his parents sinned,” said Jesus, “but this happened so that the works of God might be displayed in him.”
This is a great and tremendously comforting truth to embrace. Just because we’re hurting or going through a rough time doesn’t mean that God is angry or turning away from us. The changeable circumstances of the material world – financial stability, health, prosperity – are not necessarily or inherently related to our relationship with God.
And yet we so rarely think about the inverse.
If it’s true that our lack of prosperity, our money troubles, and our health problems aren’t necessarily related to God’s relationship with us, it’s also true that our abundance of prosperity, our financial surplus, and our immaculate health aren’t necessarily related to God’s relationship with us either. In other words, the fact that you’re happy, healthy, and doing well does not indicate that your relationship with God is going well. Matthew 5:45 points out, after all, that…
[God] causes His sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.
Can God bless us in material ways when we are right with Him and close to Him? Sure. Must he bless us in material ways when we are right with Him and close to Him? By no means. God’s gifts are eternal, born in spirit and displayed in spirit; though He can also bless the day-to-day material concerns of our life, those are hardly the most precious gifts we receive from Him. To assume that people doing badly are cursed and people doing well are blessed is a fallacy.
And yet I find it’s one that I succumb to if I don’t catch myself. Because when you’re happy – when the money’s in the bank, when you’re healthy and receiving amazing opportunities, when everything is going your way – it’s easy to feel as though you’re “doing it right,” as though you’ve pleased God enough to somehow earn that gift.
But we need to realize there is no way we could ever earn any good gift from God – we’re not righteous enough for that, and all we receive comes at His grace and good pleasure. And if we are doing well, that’s wonderful, but it’s all the more reason to cling closely to God. Material security can be a false comfort; we can “feel” like everything is okay on the outside and neglect to pay attention to our spirit.
We would never call out a believer who had lost a loved one or someone who had cancer as an example of God’s displeasure; we’d be wise to avoid calling out material prosperity as an immediate indication of God’s good favor. The Lord looks ever and always at the heart – and so should we, lest we fall into erroneous judgments ourselves.
I’m away on vacation for the next couple of weeks. Please feel free to comment on or respond to the posts; I’ll certainly get back to you when I return!