Today, I want to share a powerful concept distilled in a single verse of the Hebrew Bible–2 Chronicles 16:9–that is central to the Judeo-Christian understanding of how the divine order works. A similar concept is also found in other religious and philosophical traditions. In 2 Chronicles 16, a prophet named Hanani confronts Asa, who was king of the ancient Hebrew Kingdom of Judah at the time. Asa had just won an important battle against the rival Hebrew Kingdom of Israel with the aid of the King of Syria, Ben-Hadad. However, the prophet offered this rebuke:
7 “Because you relied on the king of Syria, and did not rely on the LORD your God, the army of the king of Syria has escaped you. 8Were not the Ethiopians and the Libyans a huge army with very many chariots and horsemen? Yet because you relied on the LORD, he gave them into your hand.9 For the eyes of the LORD run to and fro throughout the whole earth, to give strong support to those whose heart is blameless toward him. You have done foolishly in this, for from now on you will have wars.”2 Chronicles 16:9
The ethical compromise implicit in Asa allying himself with Syria and not consulting God may be lost on us as people who live in a totally different era (and lost on Asa himself, who was enraged by the rebuke and punished the prophet).
The general principle, however–that divine support is reserved for those who do the right thing, and divine resistance for those who do the wrong thing–is abundantly clear, and runs throughout the entire Bible.
In Eastern tradition, this is the idea of karma (what goes around comes around). If you do good, you will be met with good, and if you do bad, you will be met with bad, sooner or later, in this life or in the next one.
In social psychology, the law of reciprocity holds that when we do good things to others they tend to return the favor, and vice-versa.
In the New Testament, this concept is best encapsulated by the language of sowing and reaping.
Do not be deceived: God is not mocked, for whatever one sows, that will he also reap.Galatians 6:7
If you are a Christian, the idea is simple. God is always watching. He fights on the side of those who do right, and fights against those who do wrong.
God resists the proud, But gives grace to the humble.James 5:11
There is a layer of complexity epitomized by the Biblical story of Job. Job was a righteous man who famously lost everything before God restored it. The fact is we can’t rely on worldly success in any given moment to assess God’s favor. Just as “God causes the sun to shine on the righteous and unrighteous” (Matthew 5:45), good people often go through very difficult times.
However, even the story of Job–the biggest apparent contradiction to 2 Chronicles 16:9 and the law of sowing and reaping–had a happy ending, in God’s timing and in God’s ways.
Behold, we consider those blessed who remained steadfast. You have heard of the steadfastness of Job, and you have seen the purpose of the Lord, how the Lord is compassionate and merciful.James 5:11
A question to ponder today in light of how we believe the world works:
Is God fighting for me or against me?
Is God adding to my strength or is he subtracting from it?
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