God gives us the components necessary for a strategy of living that leads to life and health. This moral universe, in which God shares power with many players, often causes situations we could call “Job’s Puzzles.” They are seeming injustices. They puzzle us because there are more factors at work than we have information to track. Jesus’ dying on the cross was such a puzzle. It made no sense, and many of His contemporaries assumed He was guilty simply because “God would not have let an innocent man suffer like that.” The unknown factor in that case, which His apostles reveal in the Bible, was that humanity’s afterlife was at stake. Jesus wasn’t about to blow the plan by taking vengeance or skipping out of town.
Allowing that there will sometimes be such puzzles to us in life, we can still trust that morality is working in all situations. We can believe that doing good leads to life and health and that doing bad hastens death. The book of Job is so rich with wisdom that we sometimes overlook how it actually affirms this principle, even while focusing on an exception. Remember that Job’s calamity was an aberration. The rest of his life – and he lived 140 years – was marked by his good behavior and God’s blessings for that behavior. Job’s virtuous living was not a waste – it prolonged his life. He proved out the law of averages. That the righteous sometimes suffer is an exception that proves the rule.
Apply the Strategy
Let’s start with a dynamic of morality that we can all understand. The Bible promises a long life to those who obey their parents. We can see for ourselves how this works out. Parents tell their children not to play in the traffic, not to run with the wrong crowd, not to stay out too late at night. More positively, they encourage children to eat well, get plenty of rest, and dress properly. Children who honor their parents’ wishes tend to live longer than those who don’t. The idea is that long life is a consequence of virtuous living. Certainly the death rate among teenagers who abuse alcohol and drugs is higher than it is among teenagers who avoid these substances.
Jumping off a tall building results in consequences that are immediate and devastating. Worry and fear result in consequences that are just as devastating but take much longer to manifest. If you worry once or twice, or a few days in a row, you might not suffer many ill effects. If you worry day after day, though, there’s no telling the toll it will take once you’re past middle age (and some don’t even make it that long).
We are continually amazed at the intricacy of interaction between the mind and the body. Every thought has its own effect on our metabolism. Sometimes the effects take so long to add up and reveal themselves that we find it hard to trace the causes, yet science has accumulated more than enough data to show that the kinds of virtue that the Bible promotes do result in healthy living.
Take the issue of sex, for example. The Bible promotes the idea of purity. A single person is to abstain from sex until marriage. If faithful to that spouse, this person continues to remain pure through marriage. That is, it’s not sex that’s impure – it’s sex outside of marriage that’s impure. To engage in premarital sex is to be unfaithful to one’s future spouse – that is, to be impure. Impurity invites negative consequences. You may not be able to determine what all those consequences will be. They may not show up right away either. Rest assured, however, that impurity is – just as any sin is – a seed of destruction. The harvest will not be pleasant.
Likewise, you cannot divorce a person without consequences. Divorce is unfaithfulness to one’s spouse. The breakdown in faithfulness is an impurity. It has consequences. Glue together a piece of brown construction paper and a piece of green construction paper. If you later pull them apart, you’ll have some brown fragments stuck to the green piece and green fragments stuck to the brown piece. The glue means that the two pieces can no longer come and go from one another without consequences. Sex is God’s glue, and wherever you apply it there are consequences.
God would prefer us to experience only the good consequences of sex: joy and children. If, however, we engage in it in some way other than what’s right, we have to live with the negative consequences…and those can be quite gruesome. Sexually transmitted diseases flourish where safe sex is not practiced. Safe sex is pure sex: that is, within marriage between a man and a woman. It is not, contrary to some voices, a matter of technique or devices. These voices may disagree vehemently with me, but the consequences will come just the same – the laws of nature show no respect for our rhetoric.
Sowing and Reaping
The process of sowing and reaping that we see in the physical realm of life mirrors what happens morally. What we sow, we reap. Therefore, our strategy should have us giving first attention to what we’re sowing. During each day we sow innumerable seeds. Every thought, every word, every action is a little of our life force going out into the creation. That’s why even small acts of kindness make a big difference.
There was an older professor at the university I attended. I often passed him in the morning as he walked to his classroom. He swung an old satchel and whistled to himself all the way down the street. He always looked happy. And I smiled every time I saw him. I’m smiling now even as I think about him. His cheerful demeanor was a little seed of goodness sown to everyone who saw him. I’m sure that some days I had a scowl on my face for one reason or another, but the sound of his whistling wiped it right off. He was not only sowing good seed, he was stopping me from sowing bad seed. It was a little thing, I agree, but that’s exactly what all seeds are. The wonderful thing is, you can never tell all they might become when full grown.
There’s no telling how much seed an individual person sows in a single day. Given the importance God attaches to all we do, however, the total count must be staggering. Some of these innumerable seeds are of goodness. Many, alas, are not. Multiply these seeds by the number of other humans who also lived this single day. Then add the totals from one day to the next. All these seeds are growing, and they are harvested at different times. In the final analysis, we know that everything will work out wonderfully, that goodness will overcome evil and we’ll all be in heaven. There are, however, times here on earth before that, where the accumulation of evil that is sown comes back in a harvest that is, for the moment, devastating. These great harvests of evil are what the Bible calls hell.