Psalm 1:3 reads, "Whatever he does prospers."
It's a dissonant experience. Obviously, the Bible is true. But this verse seems to be false. Why? Because we all know righteous people who suffer.
So we are faced with a dilemma.
Either God is lying to us: righteous people do not always prosper.
Or should we conclude these people were not righteous? If you are suffering, it is evidence of sin.
So which is it?
The first option is untenable because God cannot lie.
The second option is devastating because it adds shame to our suffering.
To find a way forward, we need wisdom. Perhaps the main interpretive challenge is how we imagine prosperity.
According to Red Crow Marketing, the average American is exposed to between 4,000-10,000 ads daily.
It's hard for a fish to know it's in water. And it's hard for us to understand that we are conditioned to see ourselves as consumers.
Prosperity means having more stuff and more experiences.
That's not being negative; it's just how the dictionary defines it. Merriam-Webster says prosperity is "the condition of being successful or thriving especially: economic well-being."
But let me ask you a question. Would you rather have more money or more happiness?
Assuming our basic needs are met, most of us would choose happiness. The Scriptures teach us - and the social science confirms - that those who live generously are far happier and healthier than those who are selfish and stingy.
As Christian Smith and Hilary Davidson write in The Paradox of Generosity:
Generosity is paradoxical. Those who give their resources away, receive back in turn. In offering our time, money, and energy in service of others' well-being, we enhance our own well-being as well. In letting go of some of what we own for the good of others, we better secure our own lives, too. This paradox of generosity is a sociological fact, confirmed by evidence drawn from quantitative surveys and qualitative interviews (224).
Some of us will be encouraged to be generous because the data confirm it's good for us. But long before this research was collected, the Scriptures already provided this wisdom. The righteous ones who trusted Yahweh and lived for the benefit of others were already flourishing.
The way of the wicked is the way of external prosperity: status, possessions, and hoarding.
The way of the righteous is the way of internal and relational prosperity: joy, love, peace, and purpose.
But still, does the righteous person always prosper? We misread Psalm 1:3 if we see it as a promise rather than a proverb. Psalm 1:3 gives us wisdom for life, not the instruction manual for a slot machine.
The point is that when we live righteously, we live how God designed us to live. So that way of life will always bear fruit. It's aligned with the grain of the universe.
At the same time, there are always mitigating factors in the complexities of life. Tim Keller once pointed out the wisdom of Proverbs 13:23: "An unplowed field produces food for the poor, but injustice sweeps it away."
Unplowed fields do produce food for the poor: it's a generally true principle. But sometimes injustice sweeps it away.
Likewise, sometimes the righteous are depressed. Not because they're wicked but because their neurotransmitters are out of sync, they're being abused, or they're lonely.
All things being equal, the way of the righteous is superior to the way of the wicked. It's the way of life that God blesses. It's how God designed us to live. It's what heals and renews our communities - even our world.
Hebrews 11:6 expresses this idea well. It says, "Now without faith it is impossible to please God, since the one who draws near to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him."
Sometimes, the pursuit of righteousness is presented as an ascetic challenge. 'Following Jesus is miserable, but you gotta do it.'
But God designed us to seek rewards. It's healthy and good to want to take actions that benefit us! We serve a perfect God who is generous and loving.
Meditate on Psalm 1:3. Allow it to sink in. Trust God. Draw near to him. Be righteous. The way of the righteous is the way of true and lasting prosperity.
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• 47% of young people say they are moderately
or extremely depressed.
• 55% of young people say they are moderately or extremely anxious.
• 57% of young people say they are moderately or extremely stressed.
• 45% of young people say they are moderately or extremely lonely
These are the alarming findings from a study by Dr. Josh Packard and his team at Springtide Research Institute.
But there's hope. Because many churches have the capacity and the desire to care for young people!
In this free event, Dr. Josh Packard will help us to understand the mental health challenges facing the next generation — and equip us to respond with compassion and wisdom.
If you want to bring hope to the next generation, please register for this free event.
Giving credit: Photo by Markus Spiske on Unsplash