Look at the Sun
A couple of weeks ago, my INSIGHT small group had an interesting discussion. We talked about the suffering church around the world, and how we as Americans have trouble identifying with them because we enjoy so much prosperity. The majority of Americans rarely lack materially. We also talked about how it’s easy to become self-focused and forget to pray for the suffering church around the world because our lives are so busy and we’re so engrossed in our possessions in America. Life is easy here and we rarely “have” to think outside of ourselves.
Are possessions evil? Not necessarily. But they can be. And I think the Bible tells us what makes possessions good or bad. The only way to understand anything rightly is to look at it through a Biblical lens. I read an interesting passage lately, and the more I examine it, the more I wonder if there are similarities between what happened in the text I’m about to share and what is happening in America today. Please know that the following thoughts are purely my own. I highly encourage you to examine the Bible and see if these ideas are true. By the way, most of these thoughts are seemingly negative, even though my intention is to encourage you. I need to set up the problem before I talk about the solution, but the solution is coming!
Romans 1:21-25 says, “For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened. Claiming to be wise, they became fools, and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and creeping things. Therefore God gave them up in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, to the dishonoring of their bodies among themselves, because they exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever! Amen.
I think there are definitely parallels between this passage and modern-day America. What is going on in these verses? Basically, Paul is writing about a group of people who kept worshiping what God had made rather than the creator, God Himself. They cared more about His gifts than they cared about Him. These people were blatant idolators. God continued to show them His beauty and they continued to reject it. But notice what happened. The passage says that God “gave them up” to those passions. I wonder if that was God’s punishment for them. They kept rejecting the One who wanted to offer them the highest joy, so finally, He said they could just have all the lesser pleasures that they had spent their whole lives pursuing. God’s punishment was that the people would never be ultimately satisfied in Him because they continued to idolize cheap, worldly joys rather than God Himself. In a sense, their possessions were their punishment.
According to 1 Peter 3:18, Jesus died on the cross and bore our penalty for our sin to bring us to God. Through His death, He purchased every good gift for us. Rather than burning in hell, we get to enjoy nothing but His mercy and love forever! James 1:17 says, “Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change.” When you think about it, God’s gifts are simply means that point to the end, which is God Himself. The only way these gifts can actually be good is if they point us to Him. My pastor, John Piper, uses the analogy that God is like the sun, and His gifts are like sun beams. The point of sun beams is to point us to the sun, just as the point of God’s gifts is to point us to God. It’s silly to forget from whence the sun beams came (the sun) just as it is silly to forget from whence God’s gifts came (God).
While the Romans 1 passage is not entirely applicable to Christians, I believe there are important implications for believers in this text. See, the problem with the people in Romans 1 and modern-day Americans is that we (all of us) so often forget to trace the sun beams back to the sun. We love God’s gifts while forgetting God Himself. I’m wondering if possessions are more of a blessing or a curse. I think it depends on how one responds to God’s gifts. For the person who idolizes God’s gifts and forgets their Giver, possessions are truly evil, because they distract them from God. For the one who treasures Christ and continually looks up the beam of God’s gifts to the sun (the Giver of the gifts), possessions are a tremendous blessing, because they lead them to true joy!
I’m not saying we should get rid of our possessions. I simply want to say that if the end of every gift is God, then every good gift that He has given us is a means to true joy! We’re told never to idolize the beam, but rather to let the beam point us to the sun. God is holding out true joy to us wherever we go, in whatever circumstance we’re in, because He is at the end of every gift and circumstance He gives us. He simply beckons us to see and savor His glory wherever we’re at.
I think we all struggle to some extent with idolizing the beam and forgetting the sun. I know I’m definitely there. Let me end this post with one final encouragement. Psalm 116:12-13 says, “What shall I render to the LORD for all his benefits to me? I will lift up the cup of salvation and call on the name of the LORD…” What does this mean? It means that we have only one thing to do to pay God back for everything He’s done for us, and that is simply to recognize our need before Him and ask Him to fill our cup. The passage I quoted from Romans 1 is a call to the Christian to stop looking for joy in the wrong places. True joy is found in God alone! God is not out to beat us over the head because we stumble. He just wants us to understand our need and ask Him to change our sinful, wandering hearts.
Right now, Yahweh beckons us to come and gaze at His beauty. He has blessed us with gifts in order to help us do that. Ultimately, He is more than enough for our every need. Not His gifts. Just Him.