Does God Reward Us?
Hey, you guys – Does God reward us?
This is one of those things that comes across my brain/social media feed regularly. And I always feel a bit squirmy and unsure of how to respond. Man, there is a lot of stuff in the Old Testament where it seems the Israelite’s are being punished… and there are definitely some stories where it APPEARS God is rewarding people….
So what do we do with this language? I want to hash through this concept. And I need your feedback if we are going to get anywhere.
I was once told by a successful woman that she knew her business was blossoming because she had been faithful to God. I think what she meant, is that she loved God and credited Him with her success. But I’m not really sure. I know she went to church regularly. I don’t know exactly how much time she was spending in the Word so I can’t give you a neat formula for how you too can achieve the success she was enjoying.
I have friends who have suffered miscarriages and were convinced God was punishing them. That He did not deem them worthy of motherhood and so He had taken away their babies. They found it very plausible and quite likely that as a result of their personal sin, their babies had died.
Some people talk of the good things that happen when we ¨put God first.¨ If I take care of my priorities and my responsibilities, then God will reward me. When you pay your bills and take care of your family, good things happen. If you don’t, expect chaos.
All of this language makes my brain hurt.
What is going on here?
Is my future really the product of a formula I have either correctly followed or completely botched?
I don’t think it’s that simple.
First of all, let’s be clear: you did not have a miscarriage because you are a terrible person. Or even because you are a mediocre person. Miscarriage is not a form of punishment from God. If you can find Scripture to argue that point, bring it. Meanwhile, I’m moving ahead.
So let’s see what Scripture does say.
Psalm 73 is an example of the Psalmist lamenting how he envies the “prosperity of the wicked.” He’s jealous, as any of us are, when an infamous jerk is doing well. “What’s the deal?” we ask. This doesn’t make sense.
Take a read thru the Psalm. It ends with him realizing the real winner is the speaker, because He has the Lord by his side through it all. He has salvation in His God and puts His trust in Him. It’s not about the other guy; it’s about you and your unity with your God.
There is a righteous man who perishes in his righteousness, and there is a wicked man who prolongs his life in his evildoing… It is the same for all, since the same event happens to the righteous and the wicked, to the good and the evil, to the clean and the unclean, to him who sacrifices and him who does not sacrifice.
(ecclesiastes 7:15, 9:2)
We see something similar in Ecclesiastes. The author has been pondering the reality he sees in front of him: there are righteous men who die young, and there are evil men who have long lives of evil. What gives? It’s clearly not about our behavior.
Furthermore, Jesus drives home this point in Matthew. The rain, the sun, the economy… it’s for all of us. Not just believers.
..He makes His sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust.
Life is Hard
Verse after verse reflects that following God’s commands is not a one-way ticket to easy street.
Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine. When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you; when you walk through fire you shall not be burned, and the flame shall not consume you.
It doesn’t say, since you believe in my name I will spare you from having to walk through the waters, or that He will send you an alternative route that includes no fire.
I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.
Three times I pleaded with the Lord about this, that it should leave me. But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong.
(2 corinthians 12:8-10)
More than that, we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.
All of these verses are about the peace and presence of God being WITH US THROUGH the trials. Not that we will be lucky enough to avoid them completely.
Furthermore, check out the entire book of Ecclesiastes, not to mention Job, Ruth, and Daniel. These are faithful, wise, God fearing people whose lives were filled with heartache and suffering.
So what’s the formula? Why are so many people buying into the idea that ‘following God’s Word’ will lead to good things?
Surely I Can Figure This Out
Obviously, we are all looking for answers. All of us want to solve our problems, live better, worry less, and achieve some level of success. Actually, we were made that way. Seeking answers is definitely one way we reflect the image of God. Knowledge is a good thing. The Bible is clear about that.
Another aspect of this is that we want to take credit for stuff. We are ready to find blame (within ourselves as well as others) and we are just sure that WE hold all the keys to why things happen.
The prosperity gospel says, follow God, seek him and all things shall be given to you. Wait, is that actually a straight-up not-doctored quote from the Bible? Yes it is.
But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.
But the ¨things¨ we are hoping will be delivered, are not what Scripture is talking about.
What if MY EXPECTATIONS about what life should look like, are NOT THE SAME AS GOD’S?
My Expectations vs. God’s Expectations
Let me repeat that.
What if MY EXPECTATIONS about what life should look like, are NOT THE SAME AS GOD’S?
Let’s think about that for a minute.
We get ourselves into all sorts of mix-ups and messes. And we think those messes should be resolved a certain way, and that our way would be the same as God’s.
But most of this drama is rooted in sin, not God’s will. So our expectations of how things should work out, are flawed from the very beginning.
God’s Word says loads about how life should look, yet we still make plenty of assumptions. Take a gander at the 10 Commandments and you will have a pretty good idea of the guidelines He sets out for us. Then take an honest hard look at how well your life is lining up with that business. Our reality is just NOT reflecting a maintenance of the law. Sorry.
Ok, but what about if I am really trying to follow God’s law? The deal about paying my bills and taking care of my family.. what if that is going well? Won’t that pan out for me?
Here’s what I’m thinking. You tell me if I’m wrong.
The Thing About Rule Following
When sin entered the picture, the people God proclaimed as “very good,” were no longer “very good.” Once Adam and Eve started listening to Satan’s lies and thinking they knew what was best, man was no longer “very good.” Instead he was separated from his very-good God.
The world God created is not set-up to work efficiently with sin. When sin is introduced, the system responds with hiccups, complaining, and crashes like a virus-ridden computer. Relationships break down, expectations are marred, and misconceptions reign. It seems like we spend most of our time troubleshooting our lives.
Sometimes it feels like things are going well. It seems we are doing what we can to put God first and Christ at the center. And life is pretty good.
Yes, sometimes things go well.
But that’s not because we have cracked the code.
Part of it is no doubt the good work the Holy Spirit is working through us.
Part of it could just be the sunshine and the rain falling down on the righteous and the evil alike. But actually most of the time we are force-feeding our program SIN and expecting the right results.
In life, I may THINK I’m doing alright, and meanwhile Satan is plotting against me.
Even more likely, I THINK I’m doing alright, but all the sin I’ve learned to ignore is building up like the leftovers in the back of the fridge that I pretend aren’t there. Sure they don’t bother anything at first, but after a while they make their presence known when one day you open the fridge and the smell of rancid meat knocks you over.
But I thought I was following the rules!
Well, you’re not.
Is God working through your calling?
Is sanctification happening slowly day by day because the Holy Spirit is indwelling and change CAN happen with God?
But you are not being rewarded based on good behavior.
Your business is not successful because God prefers Christians.
And He’s not punishing you by giving you a terrible disease. (Nor is He punishing your neighbor that way.)
The world is a confusing place. We can’t explain things. We are left without plenty of answers. We would like to think we are the authors of our own success and we would like to point out mistakes that lead to failure.. because that helps us make sense of things.
But that’s not exactly how it works.
How it works is… Jesus gives us a way back to “very good.”
How it works is… HE works through repentance and forgiveness and compassion and love.
How it works is… our merciful Father is sanctifying our souls.
And we can look forward to the complete regeneration of this world when the Son returns to bring glorification to His creation.
In the meantime, speaking in a language of a rewards system is really dangerous. It puts the onus on our output, instead of God’s work through us. Can those of us who stand confidently on the true Word of God make sure we are using language that puts our sin and His saving grace in the right places?
For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.
All of God’s gifts are gifts of mercy and love. Not because we earned them, but because He is grace.