Why being a good person doesn’t get you good things
There is a common misconception about Christianity. Although it is rarely articulated, many of us still choose to believe it. That misconception is the idea that if we do good then good things will happen to us.
This isn’t a new idea either. In fact it is found in one of the oldest books in the Bible. The Book of Job isn’t really about how to endure suffering; it’s about the testing of a certain system of belief. We find it here in the very beginning of the book when the accuser approaches God and says, “Does Job fear God for nothing? Have you not put a hedge around him and his household and everything he has? You have blessed the work of his hands, so that his flocks and herds are spread throughout the land. But now stretch out your hand and strike everything he has, and he will surely curse you to your face” (Job 1:9-11).
It’s this very system that is on trial through the rest of the book, and to be honest, I think it is a valid question that the devil asks. He claims that Job only loves God because God has given him good things, and if you took those things away he would no longer worship God. It’s similar to the idea we often have when we see a beautiful young lady married to a much older yet very rich man. We assume that she is only in the relationship for the money, and the only way to truly test that idea is to take away all the money and see how she reacts.
The rest of the book unfolds with Job’s friends telling him to just confess his sins so that he can get his stuff back. Because, for Job’s friends, a relationship with God was all about getting material stuff. The main thing Job gets right is that he confesses he loves God because God is worthy of love and not just because he had been blessed in this life. Sometimes we call this faulty system Karma or “positive vibes,” and we believe that if we just do good and think good thoughts then good things will happen to us.
The saying “what goes around comes around” isn’t a biblical teaching. If the Book of Job can teach us anything it’s that the karma system is not the way God works, and there is a good reason for that. If it was a guarantee that we would get good things in this life just by being good, it would remove the relational aspect of our communion with God, and He simply becomes some kind of spiritual Santa Claus who brings gifts to good boys and girls.
Whenever I return home from a trip, my oldest son always greets me excitedly at the door. The first words out of his mouth are, “What did you get for me dad?” And of course I usually have some small present for him, but that’s not always the case.
And on those occasions that I come home empty handed, I still get the same love and affection from him because our relationship is not based upon me handing out presents all the time. It’s this kind of fatherly relationship we are meant to have with God, and that is only possible if the system He created isn’t a karma-based system.
We don’t love God because He gives us good things; we love him because He is the good thing. He is a good God worthy of worship, so no matter what we receive in this life, He is still worthy of receiving our worship.
God takes it even a step further, though. He still blesses us and blesses us often. It is still a popular idea in our culture to belive that good vibes bring good fortune and hard work always brings good results. However, one doesn’t have to look very far to realize that isn’t always how things work. Some really good people suffer really tragic moments.
Thanks to the story of Job, we know that whole system is flawed and needs to be thrown away and replaced with the better system, the relational system between a God and His creation. Having a false view of how it works sets us up for disappointment and frustration when things don’t go the way we hoped.