“You have said, ‘It is useless to serve God. What have we gained by keeping his requirements and walking mournfully before the Lord of Armies? So now we consider the arrogant to be fortunate. Not only do those who commit wickedness prosper, they even test God and escape.’” (CSB – Read the chapter)
What’s the point? When was the last time you did something and came away asking that question? It’s frustrating to work toward some goal only to discover that your efforts appear to have been wasted. That’s frustrating in whatever part of life it happens. It’s particularly disheartening, though, when it comes to religion because of the inherent connection to ultimate meaning and purpose we seek there. Well, the people of Israel were wrestling with this very thing. Let’s join them.
Following Jesus is good. It is right. It leads to a life of abundance and blessing. But it is not easy. In fact, Jesus Himself was the first to guarantee it wouldn’t be. In some of His final words to His disciples before He went through the ordeal of the cross He promised them that if the world hated Him (which it was about to show how much it did), then it would hate them too.
Today, Christians around the world are the most persecuted people group in the world. There is no close second. Oh, there are other groups who are persecuted to be sure—the Rohingya people in Myanmar and the Chinese Uihgurs as two recent and high profile examples—but no one else faces and has faced the amount of systemic, brutal, state-sanctioned, ongoing persecution like Christians have.
In other words, Jesus was right.
And the physical persecution we face is to say nothing of the mental and emotional and social and spiritual challenges of following Jesus consistently. There is so much we have to give up and refuse to do and miss out on experiencing if we want to stick closely to the path we are told leads to life.
And what do we gain from it?
Okay, sure, you can go talk to some folks and they’ll share with you as long as you’re willing to listen about how blessed they are from serving the Lord for many years, and sure, the Scriptures talk about the sweet reward of eternal life, but let’s be real for a second: sometimes—okay, oftentimes—that sounds more like the promise of a late-night infomercial pitchman than it does any kind of an actual reality.
More often we have days when we face hard stuff and manage to make it over some towering (to us) spiritual hill, look proudly over the crown of the hill…and see more hard stuff and more towering hills. And it leaves us beginning to wonder something: What’s the point?
What are we really gaining from all of this? Does God even notice? What’s the difference between us who work so hard to do the right thing, saying, “No,” to so many opportunities and missing out on so many experiences, and the folks who simply embrace it all and don’t seem to care two cents about God and His righteousness?
I mean, look around. The wealthy and well-connected manage to escape justice all the time. Those who are politically in favor can get away with just about murder and have people who will sing their praises. Meanwhile, the folks who are really trying to do right just keep getting pounded back down.
This is all what the people of Israel were wrestling with, and I think this finally gets to the heart of their cynicism and complacency. They had seen the pagan nations around them thrive while they kept getting pounded long enough that they were pretty convinced all their efforts at righteousness didn’t matter. So why bother? Why give it any real effort? Why not just throw it a bone and do as they pleased?
What could God possibly say to this that would give them reason to care again? What could He say to us? We’ll talk about that tomorrow.