Friday, February 24, 2012

Not for Wealth and Not for Pleasure

Profound truths can be found in unusual places. In his 1975 book The Dictionary of Misinformation--the sort of thing usually shelved with the trivia--Tom Burnam notes under "Predestination" that "a belief in predestination is among the noblest of doctrines. For it places the emphasis not on goodness as a lever to ensure some future paradise, but as valuable for its own sake. To live the good life without regard to what's in it for you comes close to the ultimate in altruism."

Few are noble enough to be that altruistic--even on the material plane. We resist with all our might any evidence against the idea that God owes us some earthly paradise for being good. At the extreme is the "health and wealth gospel," which believes that adequate piety ensures freedom from any real problems. If you've met up with a health-and-wealth preacher during any of the low moments of life, you know something of how Job must have felt when his friends were badgering him to agree he deserved his hardships.

It's not that God doesn't want to give us the best. It's just that we fail to appreciate that the Best is God Himself, and all else is immaterial. Even Christians can fall prey to the idea that it's better to have fun for a while before surrendering completely to God's will--as though the best happiness and God's will were compatible only in Heaven. More "what's in it for me" thinking.

What's in it for us is the sort of joy that could never be found in wealth and pleasure alone--starting not in the afterlife but anytime we're willing to take it. But since God is the essence of such joy, setting human terms for it is more than selfish.

It's literally impossible.

Not for wealth and not for pleasure,
Not for ease as our reward,
Not for any earthly treasure,
Do we serve our holy Lord:
He Who came and walked among us,
For our sake He suffered all,
Set aside all Heaven's glories
To redeem us from the Fall.

For our sake He lived as nothing:
For Him, will we do the same?
For our sake He cruelly suffered;
For Him, will we bear all shame?
He gave all for us, so, likewise,
May we give our all for Him:
He has greater gifts than riches,
And will fill us to the brim!

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