August 13

Healthy, Wealthy, and Wise: Living Ethically in the Light of the Bible

Reading schedule

Luke 13:1-9; 1 Timothy 6:12-21; Proverbs 6:20-35; Esther 1

When everything goes well in this world, like it can appear to for the rich, there is a tendency to become arrogant and put our hope in wealth and this world. Paul tells Timothy to tell the rich not to give into this temptation. This world’s blessings are an opportunity to bless others, not a reflection of how good we are.

Likewise, when the world seems to curse us, that is not a reflection of how bad we are. Jesus responds to two examples of tragic deaths. The first example is caused by human evil, when Pilate killed Galileans while they were offering sacrifices. The second is a natural form of evil, when a tower fell on some people. There is a temptation to think that those who suffer pain and die prematurely are more sinful than those who live longer and escape tragedy. We see this when things go badly and people ask why God is punishing them. Some who get ill or suffer struggle with guilt, trying to figure out how they sinned to bring this on themselves.

Jesus responds to these ideas even more clearly in John 9 when he says that a man’s blindness was not brought on by his sin or that of his parents. The Bible does not teach some form of karmic law. While God can and does punish people for specific sins (e.g. Ananias and Sapphira in Acts 5), he makes the connection clear. Many times sickness, pain and premature death are consequences either of living in fallen world or of cause and effect. We may need to look no further than unhealthy choices we have made to understand why we are ill. We can spend excessive time trying to figure out why bad things happen to us, when often we will not be given a specific answer.

In Luke 13, rather than address why these people died, Jesus changes the focus to our mortality. Suffering and death should lead us to reflect on where we stand with God. When we hear of people cut down in the prime of their lives, we should not speculate fruitlessly about the sins in their lives. Instead, we should reflect on where we would be if something similar happened to us. Have we turned to the Lord for forgiveness of our sins so that after death we will be with him? Or do we appease ourselves by thinking that at least we are not as sinful as they?

Another reaction to hearing of pain and suffering caused by others is to wonder why God does not bring justice more quickly. Jesus tells the parable of the vineyard to point to God’s patience. We may think it unfair that the unfruitful vine is not cut down. Why do bad people not suffer more? God is patient, waiting for people to response to his love and call to repentance. Again, comparing degrees of sin is unhelpful. Where would we be if God had not been patient with us when we were unresponsive to him?

Rather than looking for a divine source of suffering, we should turn to God in the midst of our suffering. Our aches and pains should remind us of our need for God and the reality of a new body after death for those who have turned to God. Likewise, the rich likewise are told to put their hope in the eternal God, not temporal blessings. Both our riches and our sufferings are opportunities to store up treasure in heaven and take hold of the true life (1 Tim 6:19). For the rich, this comes through using their wealth generously to help others. For those who suffer, this comes through the good that God can bring even from tragedy and pain (Rom 8:28).

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