There are only a few fulcrum questions of life, i.e., questions upon which the deepest issue of life hinge. Not surprisingly, most of those questions proceed from the lips of Jesus. One in particular, reported in all three Synoptic Gospels (Mt. 16:26; Mk. 8:36; Lk. 9:25), says rather incisively, “What does it profit a person to gain the whole world but forfeit his soul?”
Not long ago in my reading of 2 Chronicles, I was reminded of the life of a fairly good king of Judah, Amaziah (“…he did what was right in the eyes of the Lord, yet not with a blameless heart” — 25:2), and his determination to trust God even though it would mean a big hit to his bank account. You can read the full account in 2 Chronicles 25:1-13, but here’s a synopsis:
Amaziah has determined to go to war against the Edomites, and so he musters the troops of Judah, some 300,000 men. Still feeling insecure, he decides to rent some troops from the northern kingdom of Israel, which at the time was definitely not in God’s good graces. Striking a deal for 100,000 mercenaries in exchange for 100 talents (750 lbs) of silver, Amaziah now feels ready to march out against Edom. Ready, that is, until an unnamed prophet warns Amaziah that the Lord is not with Israel, and that if he puts his hope in Israel’s assistance rather than in God alone to bring victory to Judah, he will be in for a rude surprise. At this point, Amaziah asks, “But what about the 750 lbs of silver (roughly $1.75 million in today’s market) that I already paid Israel’s army?” The prophet’s answer: “That’s chicken feed compared to what God can give you” (my free-wheeling translation…). At this, King Amaziah dismisses the Israelite troops and sends them home, much to their testosterone-laden displeasure.
I’m not sure I could have done that so quickly. I know I would have argued with the prophet. “Since I’ve already paid out the money, wouldn’t it be a matter of good stewardship to utilize the rent-a-legion, defeat Edom, and then send the mercenaries home? I promise from now on, I won’t turn to other armies for help.” “Anyway, why did you come to me now, after I already paid the silver? Doesn’t God know everything? Why wouldn’t He have sent you sooner, if He didn’t want me to make this deal?” In the end, however, I know I would have acceded to the prophet’s message, and sadly kissed the $1,750,000 goodbye, trusting a bit reluctantly in the prophet’s true words, “God can supply you much more than this.”
One of the big problems with sin is that it skews our capacity to think clearly and accurately. We think that certain deals, relationships, possessions, goals, attitudes, etc., are good for us, and so we pursue them. We think that by placing our trust in them rather than in God (whose resources we cannot see at the moment) we will be better off — by our own wheeling and dealing we may even gain the whole world! Amaziah evidenced his trust in God’s willingness to win victory on Judah’s behalf, even though it cost him quite a bit of money as a result. It seems rather rare today to find Christians willing to give up false pursuits in order to exercise a deeper trust in God. We want to gain the whole world, and keep our souls.
Perhaps you’re clinging to something today that is barring you from God’s blessing. You’ve committed a substantial amount of resources to this pursuit, and you are troubled by the fear that God wants you to give that up. But you really want to keep that part of your life, and so you try to bargain with God. “Let me see this through, God. If it doesn’t work out, I promise I’ll drop it and turn to You….” Perhaps it’s a relationship you know you shouldn’t be in, but the thrill of illicit pleasure is too enticing to give up. Maybe it’s a shady business deal promising you a big payout. Or a surefire cheating scheme at school enabling good grades to get you into the college or grad school of your choice. Perhaps you’ve mastered the art of argumentation so as to be able to win at every contest of wits that comes your way.
Whatever the issue, if you are depending on something other than God to bring you the result you are yearning for, and yet you are praying that God will bless your self-styled efforts, perhaps the example of Amaziah will encourage you to cut your losses, give up your star-crossed pursuit, and bank your hopes instead upon God and His promises.
There is no profit in gaining the world at the expense of losing God. May the Spirit give us ears to hear this truth!