Fortune and Judgment
“They said among themselves, ‘No doubt this man is a murderer…,’ but after they had looked a great while, and saw no harm come to him, they changed their minds and said that he was a god.” –Acts 28:4-6
How often are our opinions of others based on the outward circumstances of their lives? Paul was a prisoner; he escaped a shipwreck, washed up on a strange shore, and was bitten by a poisonous snake. For these people, that was enough evidence to issue a judgment: “Surely he is a murderer whom, although he has escaped the sea, yet justice will not allow to live.” Case closed.
But wait! After further review — when a long time passes and he doesn’t keel over dead — the same crowd decides he is obviously a god! And all based on the external appearance of his life.
I wish this were confined to 1st-century Malta, but this kind of thinking was an integral part of Old Testament theology too. Why else would Job’s comforters be unable to believe that he wasn’t hiding some secret sins to account for his misfortunes. This explains why Isaiah’s prophesies described Jesus as “a man of sorrows, acquainted with grief,” whose contemporaries would “esteem him stricken of God.” And it continued: when Jesus told the disciples it would be easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the Kingdom of Heaven, he found them “astonished beyond measure.” It completely flipped their theology. After all, riches were blessings from God, while the poor were clearly cursed.
Matthew Henry has written that the sign of God\’s blessing in the Old Testament was prosperity, but in the New Testament, it was adversity. Why has our thinking not transformed to line up? Why do we still judge people, and ministries, by the whims of fortune rather than by their Biblical fruit?
We see TV ministries or megachurches that abandon the Bible or embrace what Rich Mullins called “trendy religion that makes cheap clichÃ©s out of timeless truths” and we say, “God can\’t bless that!” But then they grow a church of thousands, and we buy their book, touting them as the men of the hour! Theirs is the new plan of God for the church! Question that and you hear, “They’re reaching millions of people for Jesus every Sunday — what are you doing?”
Well, what I am doing is trying to live my life in obedience to the Holy Spirit, which is all the success there is in the Kingdom of God. To figure out which church, or man, or woman, is doing it “right,” may require us to read our Bibles and pray, rather than watching the outward circumstances to level judgments about what is or isn\’t of God.
But — if anything — I\’d bet on those facing adversity. It\’s a new testament and a new theology that demands a vigilance to see the truth.