Are Riches a Blessing? or Sickness a Curse?

Those who hold to common grace teach that the favor and grace of God towards a person can be seen in the possession of material and physical gifts. Wealth is equated with God’s favor and health is equated with God’s love. God shows His favor towards all and His enduring love to all men by giving them material and physical abundance. This view is very commonly held throughout the church world, by cleric and layman alike.

It ought to be obvious, however, that earthly good things, though given by a good God, cannot, in themselves, be indications of God’s favor, for God also sends poverty, starvation, cancer and death. On what grounds ought we to say, therefore, that earthly well-being is to be explained as evidences of favor, and yet deny that poverty and suffering are evidences of anger, hostility and hatred? To tie God’s favor to the possession of an abundance of material things and to interpret health as an indication of God’s love gets one into all sorts of difficulties and ultimately ties God’s favor to our own personal desires, carnal though they may be. We all would like to have more money. None of us enjoys cancer. To cater to our earthly covetousness would be for God to bless sin and to despise holiness. God’s holy saints are frequently very poor. We must not be so foolish; nor does Scripture give us any ground for interpreting life in such a fashion.

The Bible does show us the direction we ought to go as we interpret the things of this world as things which God sends. We do well to pay close attention to this instruction from the Word of God, for we are prone to fall into the same error as those who teach common grace. How often is it not true that when some calamity befalls a child of God, his first reaction is, “What have I done wrong to deserve this? Of what sin am I guilty, because God has sent this trouble upon me? Why do I have to suffer in this way?”

Questions like these are our natural reaction to life’s trials. We frequently come perilously close to agreeing with the basic premise of common grace.

But there is no hope for us if we go that direction to solve the problems that adversity brings. We get caught in a muddle of questions to which there are no answers. We are lead by such thinking into dead-end paths that have no outlet. We trouble the tender consciences of God’s beleaguered saints in the midst of their woes of life. We take away the one hope and comfort they have and leave them with nothing to lighten their gloom. All they know is that material prosperity and physical well-being are indicative of God’s favor. But I am dying from cancer and have just lost my only son in an accident.

What now?

God’s works are quite different. Scripture is very clear on the whole matter.

In this life we and all men live in the world. God gives all men without exception the things of the world. Without distinction, all men receive from God rain and sunshine, warmth and cold, money and homes, automobiles and television sets, automatic washers and clothing to wear. God disposes of all these gifts as it suits Him. To some He gives much, to others little. Some have health and strength all their life, others are sick from the date of birth. Some have cancer, others have Lou Gehrig’s Disease. God may and does give to His creatures as He pleases. No one gives Him advice on the matter. He consults with no one and seeks no one’s opinion. He pays no attention to outward appearance, rank, prestige, honor, nobility of birth or any other consideration. From the day an individual is born until the day he dies, God determines with absolute wisdom the entire pathway of a man’s life and what of the things of this earth he may have.

This is true of all men. The wicked and the righteous receive all things in common and share all the bounties of this earth as well as all its calamities. A tornado destroys the home of an ungodly prince, but also a believing pauper. Cancer strikes without discrimination. Wealth is sometimes given to the wicked, but sometimes to God’s people. Poverty stalks pagan lands where the name of God is not mentioned, but Christian communities are not immune to starvation. My wife and I have been in Myanmar (Burma) and seen the lodging places of the people there. I have eaten with them of their paltry handful of rice. I have been in their huts and shacks. I found godliness there – perhaps beyond our own, if godliness includes contentment. I have heard pastors in Myanmar tell of holding their dying children in their arms, because medical help was beyond their means.

Shall we stand in the doorway of such a shack and tell grieving parents who are ready to bury their child that God’s favor is shown in the material bounties of life as well as in health?

To possess or to be deprived of the things we desire here in the world is no indication of God’s favor or disfavor. These things, in themselves, have nothing to do with grace and love or anger and hatred. They must not and cannot be interpreted in terms of God’s love or hatred, God’s blessing or wrath, God’s kindness or vengeance.

All that I have said does not, however, mean that God’s disposal of all that belongs to this life in this present world is arbitrary. We must not look on this divine disposal as being done willy-nilly, without reason or design, on the basis of spur-of-the-moment opinions. Nothing God does is done without the very best of reasons and as means to accomplish ends known only to the mind of God and belonging to His unsearchable ways. Whether we know God’s purpose or do not know it, makes no difference. Most – indeed, nearly all God’s ways are beyond anything we would think or imagine. God does not take us into His counsels, nor does He explain to us why He does what He does. He is not answerable to us nor are we permitted to summon Him with a subpoena that we may put Him in the dock and force Him to give an account to us of what He does.

God is not accountable to man for anything He does. This is the great lesson of the book of Job. Job was afflicted as few men are afflicted. His friends thought to solve the problem of Job’s sufferings by pointing to the fact that Job had sinned a great sin and was being punished by God for his sin. Job rejected that charge, for, although he knew that he was a sinner, yet he clung to the righteousness of Christ as his own (Job 19:25-27) and confessed repeatedly his trust in God’s sovereign control of his life. But Job did have one question. He wondered why all this evil had come upon him and admitted that if God would only tell him the reasons for his suffering, he would bear his anguish with patience. (Job 23:3-10). But God’s answer, when He spoke to Job out of the whirlwind, was, “Job, I am God. I do as it pleases me. No one may question my ways nor challenge my actions. No one may bring me into the witness stand and force me to give an account of what I have done. What I do is my work alone even if you do not understand it.” God’s ways are not our ways, nor are His thoughts our thoughts (Isaiah 55:8- 9).

God’s purpose in giving all things to all men in common is to show, on the one hand, His justice in His just punishment against sin, and on the other hand, to show the riches of His grace and love to His people whom He has redeemed in Christ. Thus, though all men have all the things of this creation in common, God’s attitude towards the wicked is different from His attitude towards His elect. God is never gracious, or loving, or kind, or filled with compassion to the wicked. Because He is sovereign, He sends them all that they receive; but all is His just judgment on those who hate Him. Equally, He is sovereign in all He gives to the righteous, but all that He sends them is blessing. We must understand this and confess it; it is the teaching of Scripture. Poverty, but also riches are curses on the wicked. Strokes and diabetes but also health and strength are curses on the wicked. Riches but also poverty are blessings to the righteous. Health and long life but also heart failure and genetic illnesses are blessings to God’s people.

The key text here is Proverbs 3:33: “The curse of the Lord is in the house of the wicked: but he blesseth the habitation of the just.”

The curse of the Lord is in the house of the wicked. That is, the curse of the Lord is with the wicked in everything that happens to them. They eat and drink the curse of the Lord. The curse accompanies them into their sitting room and bedroom and is upon all they do in these rooms. The curse of the Lord comes along with the husband when he brings his wages home. The curse of the Lord is in the work of the mother, going about taking care of the house and preparing to satisfy the needs of her husband and children. If they live in a castle or in a hut, the curse is there. If their home is turned into a hospital ward or a palace, the curse of the Lord is there. All the experiences through which the wicked pass are curses. All they possess and use in their daily lives are curses. Nothing but curse is upon them, for the curse of the Lord is in their house.

But the opposite is true of the righteous. Always blessing is in their habitation. If they are prosperous, it is the blessing of God. If they are poor, their poverty is sent because God loves them. If the family returns sorrowing from the cemetery, their grief is the direct fruit of God’s tender care of them. If trouble and sickness come their way, God’s blessing is not only in spite of the trouble, but through and by means of the trouble. All is curse for the wicked; all is blessing for the righteous. All this is taught us in the sacred Scriptures and we must take hold of it by faith.

It can be said without exaggeration that Proverbs 3:33 sums up the entire Scriptural teaching on this matter of our pathway in life. All Scripture testifies of the same truth. Read, for example, Psalm 1; and as you read the sharp antithesis between the wicked and the righteous, read it aware of the fact that Psalm 1 is the first Psalm in the Hebrew Psalter, because it defines the one theme that runs like a thread through all the songs. One does well to read meditatively this ancient Psalter of the church, The one constant refrain is the sharp contrast between the rich blessings bestowed on God’s people and the dreadful judgments God in His anger pours out on the wicked. My wife and I just finished reading the Psalms (our favorite book of the Bible) once again. We were struck by this repeated contrast. We tried to find a passage where Zion’s songs speak of God’s love towards His people and the wicked. We could not find one. I recommend to anyone to whom a common love of God towards all men seems a viable doctrinal option to read these delightful songs and try to find just one place where the church happily sings of a universal love or mercy or grace of God. One may start with Psalm 3:7-8, go on to Psalm 5:4-7, pause for a moment at Psalm 9:5-9 and move carefully through the Psalter until he comes to the end in which concluding songs the Psalmist calls upon the entire creation to join with the church in praises to God who alone is worthy of all praise. But even then, with heart full of praise, the Psalmist reminds us that part of God’s great works for which He alone is to be praised, is God’s two-edged sword, “to execute vengeance upon the heathen, and punishments upon the people; To bind their kings with chains, and their nobles with fetters of iron; To execute upon them the judgment written; this honour have all his saints. Praise ye the Lord” (Psalm 149:6-9).

It is our honor to praise God for His judgments upon the wicked?

Indeed it is. Then what is it to the defenders of common grace to speak of love towards the wicked and grace towards them that hate God?

It can only be their condemnation.

By Herman Hanko

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