Have you ever known someone who is very religious – who is scrupulous about public prayers and keeping all the rituals – yet does not seem to have a godly character? If you were to speak to him about it he would reply that he has done everything God requires. He has done his duty. In fact, his good deeds have won him extra merit which will more than offset any minor deficiencies God might find in him. Such a person looks at God as someone who must be appeased but really has no interest in a personal relationship with us. In his view, religious rituals and acts of charity give one a license to live however one wishes.
Has your heart ever thrilled at the sight of a lofty mountain thrusting its summit towards the sky? There is something about mountains which speaks to our soul. The pure white of everlasting snow against the dark blue of the heavens calls forth thoughts of purity and majesty. The snowy heights awake feelings of awe. We are smitten with their beauty. But have you ever asked yourself what the purpose of snow is? Is it there merely to delight us with its glory?
Every day we are bombarded with all kinds of messages. Some people say this; other people say that, and everyone wants us to believe them. Many of those clamoring for our attention have ulterior motives. They hope to derive some benefit from what they tell us. Advertisers want us to buy their products. Political parties want us to support them. And, sadly, even some religious leaders are more interested in receiving offerings or bragging about the size of their followings than they are about our spiritual wellbeing. Even with those people who love us, wish us well and have our best interests in mind, we still face a problem: How can we know that what they tell us is true?
Some people once tried to trap Jesus by asking Him whether it was right to pay taxes to Caesar. They thought that no matter how He answered, Jesus would land Himself in trouble. If He said “Yes” it would anger the Jews because they resented the Romans who ruled over them. If He said “No” it would get Him in trouble with the Roman authorities for advocating resistance to their rule. If Jesus refused to answer, it would undercut His own authority as a teacher. His critics could claim that He didn’t have the moral courage to confront the tough issues of the day.
Most of the time we are quite impatient. For example, if a waiter at a restaurant takes a few more minutes to bring us our food than we think he should, we become upset. We want immediate satisfaction. We become even more upset at the time it takes to receive a permit or some other needed certification from a government office. We do not like it when our plans are delayed by official indifference or by some petty bureaucrat demanding that we comply with a pointless regulation. But perhaps we become the most upset when it seems like God is taking too long to answer our prayers.
What makes us happy? What brings satisfaction? What can give us a sense of fulfillment knowing that our lives have counted for something?
In their search for happiness and fulfillment some people accumulate possessions or money. Other people try to find it through activities and experiences – they are always trying something new or traveling somewhere. Some look for satisfaction in work, building or making things. Some seek fulfillment in the realm of the mind. They are always interested in the latest ideas or searching out another philosophy. Still others try to find happiness through pleasure. They indulge all their cravings of the flesh. Other people take the opposite course. They try to find satisfaction in self-denial. They immerse themselves in good works.
Faced with overwhelming odds or unsurmountable opposition people generally have one of two reactions: Either they panic and give up without even trying to overcome, or they lash out in suicidal desperation. However, there is a third option available to us.
There was once a good and righteous king. During his reign justice prevailed and his people prospered. One day, however, he received news that other kingdoms were sending a vast army against him. He and his people had done nothing to deserve this. On the contrary, they had treated the nations who were attacking them kindly.
Sometimes when people get into financial difficulty they put up some of their possessions as security for a loan. Typically a money lender will loan them a small fraction of what the items are worth. If a person cannot repay the loan within a certain number of days, the money lender will sell the things he received as security for the loan. However, if the person can repay the loan, including interest within the agreed time-frame, then he can reclaim the things he put up for security. We call this process of buying back something we own “redemption.”
Often we blame our situation on a lack of resources. “If I only had a little more money, I wouldn’t always be behind in my payments!” “If I had a rich uncle I’d have a nicer house!” If my boss wasn’t prejudiced I wouldn’t be passed over for promotion!” “If I had more education people would respect me more!” To put it another way, we feel that we lack the things we need and blame the lack on external factors which are beyond our control.
Even worse, we sometimes use the lack of resources as an excuse to avoid doing things we know we ought to do. “If my work didn’t demand so much from me, I could spend more time with you, son.” “How can I show hospitality to others when I barely have enough to feed my own family?”
There is no question that raising children is difficult. In addition to the expense and hard work involved in raising them, children often bring us much pain, heartache and sorrow. In spite of the work and sorrow which children bring, people continue to have them because children also bring us much joy, laughter and love. The benefits of having children far outweigh the difficulties. As Jesus said, “A woman giving birth to a child has pain because her time has come; but when her baby is born she forgets the anguish because of her joy that a child is born into the world.” (John 16:21 NIV) The same is true as a child grows – the joy overshadows the anguish.