Archive for July, 2010
Contentment with God’s Gifts
Rev. Dr. David J. Fekete
July 4, 2010
Deuteronomy 28:1-14 Matthew 20:1-16 Psalm 37
This morning I would like to consider God’s providence in our lives in this world. Specifically, I want to reflect on differing views of prosperity. In our reading from Deuteronomy, God promises all kinds of good things for those who follow His laws. I didn’t read the part about the curses that would descend upon the individual who does not follow God’s laws. But we have a conflicting voice from Psalm 37. There we find that evil people flourish and come into wealth. We read about “the wealth of many wicked” and a “wicked and ruthless man flourishing like a green tree”. Our New Testament passage brings up a related idea, but different in some respects. It talks about laborers who begin work at the beginning of the day, the middle of the day, and as the day ends. They are all paid the same. Those who started work at the beginning of the day complained that they got the same pay as those who had worked only an hour. What I take from these passages is that problems can arise when we look at the life of other people in relation to ourselves.
We can wonder about God’s providence when we see people succeed by deceit. Or we can question why some people have advanced beyond us when we have apparently put in the same amount of work, or appear to have the same credentials. This would be like the laborers who began at the beginning of the day who got paid the same as others who worked only an hour. These issues arise only when we see life from the world’s point of view. Swedenborg calls this a materialistic point of view.
Since materialists call the pleasures of self-love good . . . and convince themselves that they are good, they call rank and money divine blessings. However, when materialists see that just as many evil as good people are raised to high rank and advanced in wealth, and even more when they see good people living in disgrace and poverty and evil people living in splendor and wealth, they think to themselves, “What is going on here? This cannot be the work of divine providence, because if it were managing everything, it would supply the good with high rank and money and humble the evil with poverty and disgrace” (DP 216).
This way of looking at things is like our reading from Deuteronomy. It is a rather simplistic theology that says God rewards the good with material things. It is also a materialistic way of looking at things as it only looks at success from a worldly point of view. Those who view things this way, as Swedenborg puts it, “call rank and money divine blessings.”
But there are other blessings. Money, rank, power, and prestige last only as long as life in this world lasts. God cares about the things that last forever. Swedenborg teaches that, “Divine blessing is to be happy to eternity, and that the Lord regards such things as are of brief duration, as are the things of this world relatively, no otherwise than as means to eternal things” (AC 8717). God regards our wealth and status only as it relates to our eternal welfare. He gives wealth and status to those it will not harm.
Wherefore also the Lord provides for the good, who receive His mercy in time, such things as conduce to the happiness of their eternal life, riches and honors to whom they are not hurtful, and no riches and honors to whom they would be hurtful. Nevertheless, to these latter He gives in time, in the place of honors and riches, to be joyful with a few things, and to be more content than the rich and honored (AC 8717).
It is not bad to have wealth and status. I gave someone the impression a while ago that riches were bad. But wealth can be used for good as well as for evil. And good can come from wealth even in the hands of bad people. What matters is why and how a person uses wealth.
The reason both evil and good people are elevated to high rank and advanced in wealth is that both evil and good people do worthwhile things, Though the evil are doing them for the sake of their personal worth and for the benefit of their image, while the good are doing them for the sake of the worth and benefit of the actions themselves (DP 217).
When Swedenborg talks about the good doing worthwhile things for the benefit of the actions themselves, I think he is talking about people who want to make a difference in the world. When we look at politicians, it is easy to get cynical. It seems that getting into office is the only thing that so many politicians strive for. But I think that there are some politicians who truly want to use their power to make the world better. I have my own ideas of who some of these politicians might be, but I don’t want to include political commentary in this talk. I think we can all think of leaders and also persons of great wealth who are making the world better–or at least trying to. Bill Gates amassed great wealth by being in the right place at the right time. He had a love for computers when society was moving toward everyone owning a personal computer. Had he been born 50 years earlier, or 50 years later, he wouldn’t have amassed such a great fortune. But it was a wonderful gift to the world when he retired and set up his foundation. I can’t comment on whether Bill Gates is spiritually good or bad. But we can see that God allowed him his great wealth because God knew that Bill Gates would do good with it.
It’s too bad that society didn’t decide to move toward a hunger for Swedenborg about the time I was ordained. Then I would have been able to ride the crest and come into great wealth. But society didn’t move in that direction. I have made my life’s choice and I am very happy with it. Trouble only comes when we look at others around us. Even in the realm of religions, we look around us and see mega-churches that preach fundamentalist doctrines flourishing. It is not our place to compare ourselves with them. We have made our choice to this belief system, and we need to be contented with our choice and with this church.
The secret to eternal happiness is contentment with what we have. God knows our needs and God provides. While I watched my friends finding university positions while I didn’t, I was downcast. But God led me here to Edmonton ministering in a beautiful faith with a beautiful congregation. I’m happier now than I ever have been in my life, personally and professionally. I don’t think I would have been this happy in a university. I know this, because last fall I attended an academic conference in Montreal. I listened to a lot of academic speeches from brilliant scholars, but left feeling empty. Religion is my calling, and the love I feel for my work today doesn’t compare with the intellectual world of academia. The secret is contentment with the choices we have made and trust that God is leading us to what is best for ourselves. In heaven, the angels,
live content with what they have, whether it be little or much, because they know that they receive as much as is useful–little if little is good for them and much if much is good for them. . . . So they have no anxiety about the future, but refer to anxiety about the future as “care for the morrow,” which they say is pain at losing or not getting things that are not needed for their life’s useful activities (HH 278).
How much do you need to be happy? What things do you need to be happy? These are questions we all think about from time to time. But our real questions should be, “What do I need for eternal blessedness? How can I come near to the God who loves me? What do I need for eternal life?” These are the things that God cares about. The things of this world are short lived. We will leave them all behind when we transition into the eternal world. Love and wisdom, care for our neighbors, a heartfelt connection with God, a clean conscience–these are what live forever. These are the gifts God will provide for all who ask. And if we have these things, we will find the peace and contentment of the angels.