21 March 2014
My Bible reading this morning included Psalm 49: “Be not afraid when a man becomes rich, when the glory of his house increases. For when he dies he will carry nothing away; his glory will not go down after him.” Riches and glory – two things that motivate the ambitious because they represent power and success – the pursuit of them animates many individuals and also entire nations.
We are seeing something of this in Vladimir Putin’s leadership of Russia: first in the magnificent spectacle and obscene cost of the Winter Olympics; then in the annexation of Crimea. A resurgent Russia causes many to feel nervous, and with good reason.
A friend of mine, married to a Ukrainian, lives in Simferopol. In his most recent email update he wrote:
“Most people are continuing to try and get on with their lives, although it may be something similar to the ostrich burying its head in the sand. Of course there are the complete pessimists expecting the very worst and preparing for the imminent collapse of law and order and trying to figure out where there are sources of water and how they will be able to survive in the forests. On the other hand there are the complete optimists expecting life with Crimea as a Russian federate to bring immediate wealth and happiness including a revival of great culture and artistic works. I’m not quite sure where I fit in.”
It is understandable why an Englishman living in Crimea at the present time should struggle to see where he fits in – but this is a sensation all followers of Jesus experience. We are ‘resident aliens’ living as strangers and exiles (1 Peter 1:1) in a world that is not as it is meant to be. It is difficult to see a straightforward solution to the Crimean crisis. There is too much complexity and so much history to untangle. It is possible to have sympathy for Russia’s claim to the land while being horrified at her actions. And it is all too easy to feel fearful about what might result if the Russian bear becomes increasingly determined in its pursuit of riches and glory.
In such a situation, like the Psalmist, we need to see the temporary nature of human power and success. All glory and riches perish in the end. As Psalm 49 concludes: “Man in his pomp yet without understanding is like the beasts that perish.” True understanding is found in the pursuit of God and His will rather than in our own achievements. Grasping this doesn’t always make life straightforward – far from it – but it does enable us to put things in perspective. My friend in Simferopol understands this:
“This morning when I woke up the weather was overcast with some ominous dark clouds, my prayer was for God to send a huge thunderstorm with bolts of lightning to destroy all evil and put the fear of God in every heart. By lunchtime the clouds had parted and the sun was poking through, and it seemed that maybe things will be ok. Who knows the plans God has for this part of the world and those who live here. Perhaps like the story of Joseph being sold into slavery God can turn evil and use it to bring about good. I think that’s where I have to end up.”
Things will be ok. God does turn evil to good.
In this life we will have trouble but in the end “God will ransom my
soul” (Psalm 49:15) That’s where I have to end up.