by Veronica Hargrave
At a gorgeous wedding a few weeks ago, I had the privilege of a valuable conversation with one of the groomsmen. He’s kind, friendly, Christian, and male. And despite Trinity Western’s famous guy-girl ratio, he finds himself single.
That encounter got me thinking. I’m kind, friendly, Christian—and yes, single. I’ve done things right. I’m in the right program, following God’s will, and yet my father is in the hospital, my car breaks down regularly, and I’m single. My first thought: So much fo
r prosperity for believers!
We live in a Western society founded upon a literary and cultural philosophy of poetic justice. In other words, you get what you deserve. On several occasions, I have interacted with Christians who truly believe that their faithfulness to God entails a white picket fence, 2.5 kids, and no financial concerns. Why? Perhaps because we’ve heard the Old Testament tales of Abraham and other prosperous figures being materially blessed by God for their faithfulness to him. Perhaps Sunday school has too long taught us to take the promises in Deuteronomy 5:33 in a literal, tangible sense? This verse reads, “Walk in obedience to all that the LORD your God has commanded you, so that you may live and prosper and prolong your days in the land that you will possess” (NIV). Clear as mud, right?
Now, I wouldn’t like to study the problem of evil here. Rather, I’d like to draw your attention to the concept of reward. What exactly do we mean by the aforementioned prosperity, and how do I practically find this prosperity while waiting for a BCAA tow truck to once again haul my dying car away?
John Chapter 9 tells the story of a man who was blind from birth. Jesus’s disciples ask the Lord, What has he done to deserve such punishment? Surely, naturally, he must have sinned. But Jesus’s response silences me every time. “It was no sin either of this man or of his parents. Rather, it was to let God’s works show forth in him.” (John 9:3 NIV)
I heard a beautiful quote recently: “Everything is grace” (St. Therese of Lisieux). I know this to be true. Everything—my ability to own a car to get to and from school, my physical wellbeing and very life (be it in or out of a hospital bed), and each and every one of the relationships around me—is grace. We are not in control of what happens to us. Everything is grace.
What is the definition of grace? According to Merriam-Webster, grace is “unmerited divine assistance.” If this is true, none of what we receive is earned. When life and sustenance come from God, how can anything we receive be earned? If we could earn our way to what we deserve, we would be making the God of the universe subject to our wills, making ourselves greater than this God. Grace draws us into relationship. Grace grounds our perspective of life and prosperity in God and our response to him.
“Rather, it was to let God’s works show forth in him.” I love the story of the blind man. He is a man with God-given challenges, much like our own university’s president, Bob Kuhn. From my experience with Bob Kuhn, he doesn’t see his impairments as a punishment, but as an opportunity for grace.
This, I believe, is the key: the acknowledgement of grace as opportunity rather than a means to reward. Whether our grace is a joyful celebration of a marriage or a trip up the 8th floor of Vancouver General Hospital, we are given opportunity to be faithful.
Perhaps we’re all a little guilty of wishful thinking. We misappropriate the Old Testament promises of prosperity to fit the material world of here and now when, in fact, we should be looking at the greater picture. It’s not a matter of reward in terms of being single or married, healthy or in hospital, rich or driving a crappy car. It’s choosing to let God shine forth in us, because we haven’t earned where we are in life. Everything is grace.