Tuesday, January 9, 2007

Lasting Forever versus Living Forever

Their inward thought is, that their houses shall continue for ever, and their dwelling places to all generations; they call their lands after their own names.

Nevertheless man being in honour abideth not: he is like the beasts that perish.

This their way is their folly: yet their posterity approve their sayings. Selah.

Like sheep they are laid in the grave; death shall feed on them; and the upright shall have dominion over them in the morning; and their beauty shall consume in the grave from their dwelling.

But God will redeem my soul from the power of the grave: for he shall receive me. (Psalm 49:11-15 KJV)

Last night my wife and I were found ourselves playing the game, “What if we won the Powerball?” This is a rare game in our house; I can count on one hand the number of times we;ve played it. Excessive riches are not high priorities for us, hence my job. Normaleweise, we are simply happy to be able to pay our bills. But we played the game last night, and the easiest decision was how much we needed. We decided anything over $2-3 million (invested to give yearly income) would be given away.
Then today I read Psalm 49 as part of my morning devotions. Why are so many consummed with riches, with gain, with a legacy? Why climb the corporate ladder? Why the competition to outdo the neighbors? Often we justify ourselves by saying, “God has given me such-and-such talents, so I had better make use of them.” That is a faithful approach by itself, but when it covers the sins of greed and pride it falls flat.

The Psalmist reveals the “hidden thought of the heart.” Death. That is what the rich fear. “Their inward thought is, that their houses shall continue for ever.” It sounds quite foolish. Of course the greedy know that they will die. Of course they know that no amount of cash reserves will allow them to avoid the Grim Reaper. That’s just plain common sense. It’s insanity to think otherwise.

But when you know that the grave is coming, that the years pass by faster and faster, that the days of generating wealth are (relatively) few, that you only have a limited supply of time, talent and capital, it makes these days precious. Death is coming when it all ends. The other shoe: better be as comfortable as possible until the little box receives me. If there is nothing after this, then it appears wise to accumulate now for yourself and later for your children. Perhaps it will last forever, our heart murmurs. Perhaps I might last forever….
Death is the problem. However, Romans 5:12 says, “Therefore, just as sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin, and in this way death came to all men, because all sinned–” (NIV). This seems to say that sin is the root issue, and death follows sin. Protestants often take it this way. But the King James preserves a slightly different wording. It says, “Romans 5:12 and so death passed upon all men, for that all have sinned.” This participial phrase retains some wiggle room. In fact, the KJV’s “for that” translates the Greek eh ho, which can mean “on account, because” or “as a result.” In fact, the Patristic understanding was the latter. In fact, we are dying, and this leads to sin. We are dying, and so we wish to accumulate riches, as if to avoid what will come, as the Pslamist testifies.

“But God will redeem my soul from the power of the grave: for he shall receive me.” This is the antidote. This is the faith. Sin confines and enslaves, but the Great Enemy, the Last Enemy is Death. “For he must reign, till he hath put all enemies under his feet. The last enemy that shall be destroyed is death” (1 Corinthians 15:25-26 KJV).
The soul cries out for life, and thanks be to God, we have the life of our Redeemer, who has destroyed the power of death, who has broken the doors of Hades and frees the prisoners from the dungeon.

The life to come is the antidote for overcoming the passions of greed and pride, of power and lust for flesh or cash. We are pilgrims here (1 Pet. 2:11; Heb. 11:13 ) and our eyes are not set on an earthly inheritance, on the mansions that may await the rich here, but on the prize of eternal life, gained for us by the suffering and death of the Second Adam, Christ our Lord.

Thus our Lord’s saying about the rich man. When one becomes entangled in the affairs of this life, our eyes are taken off the “author and finisher of our faith” (Heb. 12:2), our pilgrimage ends prematurely and our faith is wrecked.

Lord, give us our daily bread and lead us to use our income wisely!