Karma, tests of faith and God's blessing

David AyresBaustelle BerlinLeave a Comment

I sometimes wish that the book of Job simply ended without the epilogue, that last “happy ending” part. (For those of you unfamiliar, go read Job!) I think it tends to raise false hopes that somehow, somewhere there is going to be a happy resolution to this present darkness. The moral seems to be: If you live right, God may test you, but you can expect Him to restore your past losses any day now.

But in my personal experience, happy endings to ugly circumstances are the exception and generally don’t happen. Broken relationships are seldom reconciled. Badly injured or very sick loved ones often die. People who walk away from the faith rarely return. Money lost is money lost.

If these things are God’s tests of my faith, then when do I get to see the blessings? When do I get to experience the silver lining in the clouds that come my way? Where is my two-fold restoration of everything I have lost?

Years ago, prior to a funeral I had to conduct, I was speaking with the family gathered in the funeral home. One adult niece of the deceased made no bones about having walked away from the Christian faith. She said rather bitterly that she was “sick and tired of God’s lessons.”

After all these years, I still hear her loud and clear. I, too, am weary of God’s lessons, especially the ones that I have already been “taught” before. Lessons in patience and humility and trust—typically in the form of some loss, bad news or disappointment. Such lessons seem to come one right after the other, similar to how Job received the news of his devastating losses in rapid-fire succession.  When trials and frustrations come, I think and even say aloud, “Give me a break, God! Not again!

But then at some point, I usually hear a voice in my head (Is it conscience? the Holy Spirit?), “Well, maybe, if you would actually learn the lesson, it wouldn’t have to be repeated. Maybe if you were a man about whom God could boast to the angels, you would see more of His rewards.”

It is true. I do not seem to learn my lessons. Waiting a long time for things hasn’t made me more patient. Humbling circumstances of the past haven’t left me humbler, at least not that I can tell. And when I assess my heart in the midst of each new wave of frustration or disappointment, even I can see how little there is for God to boast about.

It is said that virtue is borne in adversity and that what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger. But if those were automatic equations, then by now, I should be a man of great virtue and strength. And that is clearly NOT the case. So, what am I doing wrong, here?

Perhaps, the voice in my head is not conscience OR the Spirit. Perhaps, it is the ages-old enemy trying to swap out grace for karma, trying to get me to go on working hard to earn my blessings, or, at least, to go on thinking that IF I only worked harder, the blessings would flow.

After all, good things come to those who put in the effort, right? If you would just learn to be more patient, like Job, then you, too, would reap the rewards.

Frankly, I have never thought Job seemed very patient!  But, still, I bite on the hook, thinking, Yes, if I could just learn my lesson, if I could just learn to be faithful with the little, then God would be willing to bless with more. If I could just learn . . . (fill in the blank with the missing virtue of the day) then God would shower me with all the blessings that are promised those who pass the test.

But years, even decades later, I find myself still waiting for the showers. But each wave of trial and disappointment that comes along also reveals I still haven’t learned the lessons. So, I resign myself to expect the lessons will continue until I finally get it right. (But if this cycle hasn’t been broken in 50 years, I tend to doubt that it ever will.)

But someone will interrupt me and say, “But you are not promised blessings or success in this world. The Christian’s blessings are found in heaven. You need to focus on your eternal rewards.”

Maybe. (But I haven’t learned that lesson yet!) And, besides, Job got blessings this side of heaven.  What am I supposed to do with that? Isn’t the restoration of all Job’s lost temporal blessings the reward of his patience or, perhaps, of his upright life prior to the test?

I said at the beginning of this rambling post that the epilogue in Job seems to offer this moral to the story. But let’s remove the epilogue from Job for a moment. (Only for a moment! I am not suggesting a permanent revision.) What would change if God had NOT restored Job’s fortune? What if Job had died alone, in misery and poverty? Would God be unjust in withholding blessings that were somehow due? In other words, does upright and virtuous living bind God in some karmic sense to distribute a reward of temporal or even eternal blessing?

God responds to that question, Himself, in Job 41:11 (the second to last chapter) “Who has a claim against me that I must pay? Everything under heaven belongs to me.”

Job does not teach the prosperity gospel, which more or less binds God (through what I say and do) to bless in me in certain ways. I must admit, however, I tend to live most days as if the prosperity doctrine or karma is the way God works. But this is not the moral of Job.

At the same time, I do not believe we are meant to spiritualize Job’s epilogue blessings into a metaphor for future heavenly blessing.   

So what then? What is the point of Job? And what is the point of life’s barrage of lessons that I can never seem to pass?

For anyone who is still with me this far, I don’t pretend to know (let alone practice) the answers.  But I suspect they might be found in discovering afresh that I have been deluded by the enemy into certain assumptions about what blessing looks like.

The happy epilogue blessing is not the ultimate reward of Job. To find that, we must look again at the chapters leading up to the epilogue. There we find glimpses of the true blessings of God and, I think, the overall point of the book.

To hear the voice of God in the midst of the storm was and is true blessing. To stand in the presence of the God who created the universe and not die was and is true blessing. To lose the things of this world, health, success, relationships—all of it—and yet still to be a child of God with whom He deigns to speak was and is a blessing beyond comprehension.

But we miss it. I miss it. Because I am too busy looking for what I have been deluded into thinking are the blessings I deserve (or would deserve if I could just get my act together.) I still have not fathomed grace.

I believe the greatest blessing Job encountered was the self-revealing Word of God, which condescended and came to him in the storm and into his misery. That condescending Word was a foreshadowing of the Christ, the Word of God who condescended, becoming flesh, to dwell—to live and die—among us in our misery. But God has stooped further still. He has taken up residence by His Spirit in this wretched heart of mine!

To wrap up this very long post, there is only one lesson to be learned. And it remains true whether I “learn” it or not. And that is that apart from anything I have ever done or ever will do, God in His mercy and grace has condescended to speak to and to dwell with me. Why do I still think I need any other blessing?

“Though he slay me, yet will I trust Him.”

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