A two-year-long extended Presidential campaign, with its near constant assaults on political adversaries, can make it difficult to look at the future optimistically. Someone is always talking about terrorism, war, Islamic radicals, economic peril, and cultural change; any of these things can seem to threaten life as we know it, the country we love, and our sense of safety and security, all made worse by the prospect of a new President taking us in the wrong direction, as we see it.
I think Paul’s wisdom in the sixth chapter of his first letter to Timothy applies, even though he was referring to problems among believers and not the general population:
If anyone teaches false doctrines and does not agree to the sound instruction of our Lord Jesus Christ and to godly teaching, he is conceited and understands nothing. He has an unhealthy interest in
controversies and quarrels about words that result in envy, strife, malicious talk, evil suspicions and constant friction between men of corrupt mind, who have been robbed of the truth and who think that godliness is a means to financial gain.
But godliness with contentment is great gain. For we brought nothing into the world, and we can take nothing out of it. But if we have food and clothing, we will be content with that. People who want to get rich fall into temptation and a trap and into many foolish and harmful desires that plunge men into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil. Some people, eager for money, have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs (verses 3-10).
“Godliness with contentment is great gain.” That phrase has been running through my thoughts for the past several days. I like Robert Browning’s words “God’s in his heaven—All’s right with the world.” For the believer, we have the greatest possible reason to be content for we, of all people, acknowledge the sovereignty of an all-knowing, all-powerful God. Men and women may fuss and fume about the state of our nation and world, acting as if only their knowledge and skill will save us…We know better!
That’s not to say that human activities are not important or that this election doesn’t matter. Our awareness of ultimate reality ought to give us perspective. Those who have driven God out of public life, schools, and culture put their hope in Man, sinful people whose sin they mostly deny and notice only when it serves a political purpose. Those of us who still place God in a central place in out thinking put our hope in Him, recognizing that it takes God to clean up the mess that Man has made, humbly bowing before the cross where He paid the most awful price for that redemption.
The unfortunate problem for us is that we sometimes, perhaps often, slip into their perspective. We don’t really mean it; we know the truth ultimately. However, the constant drumbeat of that other viewpoint echoes in our minds. Television, radio, newspapers, Internet, and our friends and co-workers transmit that worldly, human-centered view throughout our days. We feel we must hear the news, listen to the commentary, certainly evaluate the candidates, and stay aware of the threats our nation faces. Ignorance is not bliss; ignorance is deadly. Still, we must keep things in perspective.
Our pastor referred to the fall of Jerusalem to the Babylonians in his message today and asked us to imagine how the experience of the Jews living at that terrible moment. As bad as the fall or decline of the United States
might seem, this was worse for Jerusalem was both their political and spiritual capitol. As much as we may believe that our country holds great potential for bringing peace and prosperity to the world, ultimately it is God who will save us.
In that same message, our pastor reminded us that God has a purpose in our suffering. That isn’t the way that 21st Century Americans think; our culture seeks to eliminate suffering—universal health care, perpetual youth, and a cure for every disease, even if it requires sacrificing unborn babies to harvest stem cells. Many no long recognize the wisdom of experience, the value of maturity, or the lessons the come out of suffering pain and loss. Beauty is in endless youth, not in the character of a much weathered face.
I don’t enjoy pain or discomfort any more than anyone else. I didn’t celebrate when I realized that my scalp was no longer covered in hair. I miss being able to burn the candle at both ends, and I don’t enjoy my aching knees or dealing with diabetes. More than that, I carry burdens that have been with me for most of my life, and I now must admit that some things I hoped to see will never be, for me personally. Despite all that, I have known for some time that, even were it possible, I wouldn’t change most of it. I realized, long ago, that my own struggles and inner pain have made me a more caring and compassionate person.
I certainly wouldn’t trade places with most of the celebrities so widely idolized and adored. Too many of them seem either to be so self-involved as to have no real love for others or to be so fragile in their fame that they self-destruct. I would rather be the imperfect person I am than to be “perfect,” proud, and lost.
The same applies to our nation. Once, I believe, most people understood that our greatness was the end product of faith and hard work blessed by God. Now, many have lost that humble view and imagine that we are merely the custodians of wealth and power, ours to dispense as we see fit. As I listen to campaign rhetoric, I am more concerned about that watershed of perspectives than I am over who wins the election. Regardless,
I cannot, we cannot, allow ourselves to become overly distraught over what may happen.
First, our worst fears may not be realized. The media delight in telling us the bad news, mostly because bad news sells. In other words, they give us the bad news because that’s what we want to hear. In general, more of us seem to be “glass have empty” than “glass half full” people. I find the better attitude is to prepare for the worst but hope for the best, while around me more people seem to prepare, as if nothing bad can happen or,
if it does, somebody else will take care of everything, lately meaning the government. At the same time, they fear
for the worst.
Second, if we have a God-centered perspective, then we can ride out even the worst, looking ahead to paradise, heaven, and glory. Having that viewpoint will allow a person to live, not only with eternity in view, but with the values of eternity in his or her life. That is godliness. Too many believers or pseudo-Christians trudge through life with a begrudging acceptance of God’s law, in which obedience is given only out of fear, while resenting Him as head ogre, who demands we live without any fun. Genuinely godly people receive His Word as the revelation of truth that it is and obey because it provides the most joyful, successful way to live, given by a Creator who knows what is best for his creatures. People, with that way of seeing, walk through the fire singing with joy. I confess I am still learning to do that.
Finally, with the right perspective, we can face the future with hope. God’s purpose is not doom and destruction; it is redemption. On the way, He may permit loss in order to give us something better, but He is not interested in making people miserable, just because He can. He doesn’t ignore our situation and allow us to dig ourselves into an irredeemable mess. Such is the basis of contentment, even when it might appear everything is going to hell. Daniel may have scratched the chin of those lions till they purred, and Shadrach and company may have enjoyed the balmy comfort of the furnace, but godliness brings that kind of serenity, even when the lion enjoy you for lunch and the furnace crisps your bacon. In our case, none of the candidates quite stack up to Nebuchadnezzar, so rest easy.
Finally, it never hurts to pray. Yeah, that doesn’t sound like a typical Christian admonition. I believe in prayer, but it is so often misused and abused that I am cautious in recommending it. If I pray for MSU to win and my Christian brother in Nashville is praying for U of M, then who does God answer? Does He respond first to the prayers of the greatest number who agree, or does He favor the underdog? Will the most righteous team win or the one with the most devout player? We live in such a strange world of lotteries and multi-million dollar legal settlements that we imagine prayer in a similar vein. If only we could find the right formula, then look out Publishers Clearing House!
God’s thoughts are so much beyond us that praying often leaves behind mysteries. When I prayed that He would help me get my car started, after I left the lights on, without laying out a lot of cash, He provided what I asked, though not in a way I had imagined. Yet, I prayed for years for a wife and family, and He never gave me what I thought I wanted. Did God fail? Did I pray poorly in one case, but not the other? Or has He always provided what He knew was best, even when I thought otherwise? I think the latter is true, and one day I plan to ask Him.
Prayers made to a God we trust enhance our contentment, even in the face of uncertainty or possible disaster. They give us the strength to ride out the storms, and they give us the hope to enjoy the calm times, without anxiety about the next storm. What more could we ask? Godliness with contentment, indeed, is great gain.