Meditating with Jonathan Edwards on Job and the Fleeting Nature of Riches

7 Nov

I sat down the other day with a man who had lost almost everything.

Or so he says.

I have never been that good at being able to discern when someone is telling me a story and when someone is not. But, if what he told me is true, it is certainly some story. From having houses, land, and money in the bank to prison, extradition, and now living on the street.

It was all taken away from him. It seems in just a moment.

Sitting with someone like that, hearing their story, it always sounds at first as something so unusual. And of course, there are parts of it, that are. But, at the same time, there are parts of it, that most definitely aren’t.

Maybe a better example would be Job.

Job was one of the richest men in the world. And then suddenly, without warning, he became one of the poorest.

His servants killed, his property stolen, his children dead.

It was all there, then it wasn’t.

The life of Job is a reminder of the emptiness of things. Even the best of things in this world are so, so temporary.

It is easy to think of what happened to Job as something strange. We read the story as if it were one of a kind. And of course there are elements to Job’s story that are unique. But there are also elements to Job’s story that are not. Like his losing it all.

That will happen to every one of us.

Guaranteed. None of us can take our houses to heaven. Not our cars, not our bank accounts, we leave it all behind. There is a day coming, when it is all going to be taken from us. And we don’t know exactly when.

Did you ever think about that?

Imagine being given something and then being told that soon it’s going to be taken away from you. Knowing that you wouldn’t have it forever would change your attitude towards it. I am sure you would still enjoy it, if it were something good, but you would be careful not to put too much hope and trust in it, because you knew you wouldn’t have it forever.

That is the way it is with stuff.

“The great men in the world…” as Jonathan Edwards once put it, “kings, princes, and lords, when they die are as much deprived of all their outward prosperity as Job was: tis lost at once, and gone forever, never to be possessed more. Job’s losses came indeed sudden, and in a little time one messenger came after another in a very strange manner, but the dying man is deprived of all his external prosperity and worldly good at once, at one breath, even his last breath. This history of Job is only a shadow of death: it is no more than happens to every man in this world.”

And because it happens to every man in this world, it should change the way we think about material possessions.

If people knew they would lose their possessions and be stripped of their prosperity the way Job was, it seems they would stop thinking of working so hard for material prosperity as they do, but instead they begin working for the things that could never be taken away from them.

The eternal is what would matter.

Now of course, I suppose the problem, for the unbeliever is he doesn’t believe in the eternal. He only believes in the now. And to a certain extent, we can appreciate why they work so hard for temporary things as a result. If the fleeting happiness that comes with earthly prosperity were the only riches that there was, it makes sense, I suppose to set ones heart upon it. But, how poor a treasure really! To look for happiness in a happiness which doesn’t last. How disappointing to live as if the best happiness you could ever experience was the kind of happiness that once you enjoyed it, and almost as soon as you enjoyed it, flew away and left you empty.

The good news is of course, it is not.

And we as believers, we know it. This is at the core of our faith. The whole of our religion depends on this. It is like a foundational truth. As someone once put it, “If there be no future state of rewards and punishments in another world, then the whole of our religion is immediately thrown up and destroyed.” And for those of us who are believers, this reality, means practically, that if we were to adopt the same approach to life as the unbeliever, it would be sheer madness.

Why spend your whole working as hard as you can for things that will only be taken away from you, when you can use that same energy, to work for things that actually last?

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