This Earth

Yesterday I was in a bank depositing some checks, and the teller saw that one of the checks was from Providence Reformed Church. So he asked me about that, and I told him about it, and that I was a pastor. He said he was too.

“Oh, really?” I said. “Yes. Well, I might as well be, anyway. I’m involved in ministry at Calvary Chapel”.

Might as well be. I just let that pass.

“Calvary Chapel? Over near Austin Bluffs, right? They’re the ones who meet in that big building, that used to be a sporting goods store, right?” I said.

“Yes,” he replied. “God has really blessed us. We started with 75 people and now we have about 4000. Like New Life.”

Something about this conversation really didn’t sit right with me.

This morning at breakfast we read this in Ecclesiastes 9:

2 All things come alike to all: One event happens to the righteous and the wicked; To the good, the clean, and the unclean; To him who sacrifices and him who does not sacrifice. As is the good, so is the sinner; He who takes an oath as he who fears an oath.

3 This is an evil in all that is done under the sun: that one thing happens to all. Truly the hearts of the sons of men are full of evil; madness is in their hearts while they live, and after that they go to the dead.

I think the point that the Preacher is making is that you cannot look to events on this earth to discover God’s plan for anything. From the perspective of this earth, it’s all madness and vanity. We tell ourselves that we should ask God for our daily bread, and yet we get no more of that bread than those who do not pray. We ask God for health, and we die at the same rate as unbelievers. If there is any difference in the lifespan of religious and non-religious people, attributing it to God’s active intervention seems to me very problematic. God’s active intervention is only worth a couple of extra years? And then when Aunt Jane dies of cancer, is that because I didn’t pray hard enough?

Likewise, a church will look on the fact that it is growing very rapidly as proof of God’s blessing. But very often the wicked prosper in this world even more than the righteous. Mormon churches grow. Muslim mosques grow. So how can I take the growth of my church as any proof of God’s blessing? How can I, in fact, take any event at all on this earth as proof of God’s blessing? The same things happen to the wicked and the unbelievers. Vanity and madness.

Only by casting my eyes out farther than the temporal horizon which is visible to me can I have any hope of seeing purpose in this life. It is only in God’s eternal plan for my life that things can make any ultimate sense. Because whatever happens in this life, we all go to the same grave, where all our works are forgotten by this cursed and mad world.

The good things that happen to me in this life should certainly be recognized as coming from the hand of God. Of course, so should the bad things. I must learn to be thankful for all that God does for me. But so often, we call something a blessing when it may very well be a punishment, and at the same time call God’s sanctifying trials on us a curse. A man becomes very rich, thinks he is therefore blessed of God, is consumed with arrogance and is destroyed. Another man loses his wife to cancer and believes he is cursed of God, but God sanctifies him and draws him closer to Himself through the trial.

Only the context of eternity can teach me the truth of what happens on earth. Trying to understand the events of this world without an eternal perspective is like using a tape measure with no numbers on it. You might know which dash the end of the board falls on, but you don’t know what the dash means, or how it relates to anything else. When we measure the world without the eternal perspective, all we’re left with is the judgments of man, and so we think a church with 4000 people in it is more blessed than the one with 75.

3 thoughts on “This Earth

  1. Anonymous says:

    I think that there is some good emphasis in this post regarding being careful about how we evaluate and judge things in this world.

    However, this doesn’t mean that we can’t attribute anything to God’s blessing in this world. Particularly, we should see God’s blessing in the church. Now this might be much different that how the world measures blessing, e.g. a large American church might be much less blessed of God than a small house church in some oppressive country where members regularly face real persecution. The biblical measure is, I think, what is the fruit of the kingdom of God.

    For example, I lay ministry coordinator at a large Vineyard church in Columbus, Ohio. Consistently, 40% of the people that join the church indicate that they were unchurched prior to coming to our church. In a recent survey of the entire congregation visiting over one weekend, a third of the people indicated that they had become a Christian at our church or through a ministry of our church. We have on occasion seen documented cases of physical healing, and on a more subjective level many people have moved from a shallow level of faith to deeper, more integrated and active faith. These and many other things are the fruits that only God’s kingdom can bring and we are correct, and I think obligated, to credit God and to give Him the glory for such blessing, which includes the growth from many people becoming disciples of Christ.

    Yes it’s true that blessing can come through suffering. I can attest to this in my own life. I agree that there is too much emphasis in the Church to only look for earthly blessing. It is God’s ultimate sovereign and good choice to determine both our blessings and our trials. You seem concerned over crediting God regarding prayer for someone’s healing. It is absolutely the case that we can pray for Aunt Jane and Uncle Jim and see one healed and the other not. I think that we should be very careful in absolutely proclaiming that God was responsible, but some cases are pretty strong. For example a person has diagnosed cancer, gets prayer, experiences something during prayer, goes back to the doctor, and is completely free of cancer with no medical explanation. I don’t see how to call this anything but a blessing from God. Again, I agree that God can also be blessing, in a different way, the person who gets cancer and dies.

    Our error is not to give credit to God where He has clearly intervened, but rather to try and explain when it appears to us that He hasn’t. This is when we become like Job’s friends. I think this is in agreement with your general point about trying to explain what happens on this earth. I just think that as written, you go to far in being hesitant to praise God for His blessing. Would you be hesitant to have someone acknowledge that God blessed them through their suffering teaching them something? If not, why should we be hesitant to praise Him for the good things that teach us about His love or mercy?

    Finally, I would also make the point that certain things are part of the curse, including sickness and death. When God’s kingdom comes in fullness at Christ’s return, there will be no more mourning, sickness, suffering, or death for His people. Just as we are to pray for spiritual blessings, people to know Christ, grow in knowledge of His word, etc. to overcome the spiritual curses in our lives spiritual death and separation from God, sinful motivations and behaviors, etc., we should also pray to overcome the physical parts of the curse in our lives. It will all only be partially healed in this life, but that doesn’t preclude us from seeking it or offering praise to God for the blessing of it. Just because we all will continue to battle sin in this life, shouldn’t keep us from praising God about an area in which He has delivered us from sin. Therefore, we can praise Him for healing of a particular illness, as a firstfruit of His kingdom blessing, knowing that we will still face other future illnesses and death.

    Well this is much longer than I intended. I hope that you don’t view it as confrontational. I actually think that I am in quite a bit of agreement with you.

    Wishing you blessings in Christ (as he determines), to His praise and glory,

  2. Cary,
    Thanks for reading, and taking the time to think about it.

    I agree- I don’t think we’re really disagreeing very much. God blesses us all the time in this world and through the events of this world, and that obviously includes things that happen in church. My beef is when people use the criteria of this world to judge whether or not to bless them- numbers, money, etc.

    If people are truly growing in the Spirit and learning the Word of God, then that is not the criteria of the world.

  3. Wow, I found your site way too late in life. This is a blessing that I will thank God for because I have heard His voice in it.
    God is the great gambler, as C.S. Lewis or someone once said (Screwtape Letters, maybe?) And He looks with eyes that are not like those of men. He wants quality, not quantity.

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