BibleGateway.com’s ‘ Verse of the Day’ today is Psalm 103:17-18. Part of it hit me strangely:
…the Lord’s love is with those who fear Him, and His righteousness with their children’s children- with those who keep His covenant and obey His precepts.
What this seemed to be saying was “The Lord’s love and righteousness result from covenant-keeping and precepts-obeying.” Two things struck me. First, this certainly sounds like the keeping and obeying is required – a prerequisite; and second, ‘love and righteousness?’ The actual question I asked myself was, “What exactly are love and righteousness worth? What do they do for me, even if they are from God?”
I’m pretty sure that throughout Christendom there is a constant struggle with – or a lack of understanding of – which comes first, God’s love for only those who fear Him or the awe and reverence that is felt as a result of knowing God’s blessings. I know works don’t come first, right? But those are verbs in the passage, indicating action: fear, keep, obey. The phrasing certainly makes it sound like only those who do these things will get the ‘reward.’ And why can’t we get something really useful to people in this world, like silver and gold, or free food and shelter?
I decided to look further into this, and googled “verses love and righteousness”.
The top returns clearly backed up God’s reputation as always good:
The Rock! His work is perfect.
For all His ways are just;
A God of faithfulness and without injustice,
Righteous and upright is He.
…Righteousness and justice are the foundations of His throne.
(He is) righteous in all His ways and kind in all His deeds.
Wait a minute. “Kind in all His deeds??” Then why do bad things happen to good people? “…Why do bad people have it so good? …” (Jeremiah 12:1-4) Is this God not being faithful, righteous, and just? Or can it be that somehow He is acting with love, acting for our good and the plans He has for us – to prosper and not harm us? (Jeremiah 29:11)
It seems very contrary. A kind of divine oxymoron or something. In fact, even God’s response to Jeremiah goes right back to
Then if they (Israel) will get serious about living my way and pray to me as well as they taught my people to pray to (other gods), everything will go well for them…
I had to go deeper. Another hit on my search was Isaiah 45:21:
…there is no other God besides Me, a righteous God and a Savior. There is none except Me.
God’s name is “I Am.” He is. He is what is. Consider this world, at this time. The earth has rivers. It benefits from them, even when they flood – floodplains are the most fertile land. Flooding is what is – and it is good in the long term.
How does that translate to us? If life is a river, there will be floods. We will have trials. God’s people learn to have faith, in spite of the floods. How will I face my troubles? How can I prosper?
I found the beginnings of an answer in Romans 5:3-5, with an additional point God makes (in verse 12:5) right after Jeremiah asks why bad people have it good:
…We rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.
[But the Lord rebukes Jeremiah’s impatience, saying] “If you have raced with men on foot and they have tired you out, then how can you compete with horses? And if [you take to flight] in a land of peace where you feel secure, then what will you do [when you tread the tangled maze of jungle haunted by lions ] in the swelling and flooding of the Jordan?”
Do you know the verse about discipline not being pleasant while it is happening but beneficial in the long run? I think this is similar. The difference is that discipline is the result of something that is done wrong while rejoicing in suffering is a reaction to the storms we will face. We learn from both. We learn how to live; how to stay alive.
Why is that important? I think it has to do with developing hope, something we cannot get up and go on without. And what does God do? He answers that question Himself:
I live in the high and holy places,
But also with the low-spirited, the spirit-crushed,
And what I do is put new spirit in them,
Get them up and on their feet again.
It’s God’s love and righteousness delivered through the Holy Spirit which gives us the ability to continue to live, to push through the troubled times. He gives us hope. And we have to have hope, to make it to that future without troubles which is promised to us, for a time that will come, a time when
He will wipe away every tear from their eyes,
And death shall be no more.
Neither shall there be mourning,
Nor crying, nor pain anymore,
For the former things have passed away.
The big “why” is that it’s always darkest before the dawn. Things will get worse before they get better. Before that final glorious time, the most difficult time is coming, and we must be prepared and able to stand throughout.
And we know that for those who love God all things (the good and the bad) work together for (overall) good…