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.