All of us suffer from feelings of insecurity, and financial ruin is high on our list of worries. In the second book of the Psalter we see a number of texts that relate to the fears that beset people and the paths to which they turn for help. We thus learn about the true and the false grounds for hope in a world of uncertainty.
At times, disaster threatens our places of work, the work itself, or our sense of well-being. These disasters include the natural (hurricanes, tornadoes, floods, typhoons, wildfires), the economic (recessions, bankruptcy, collapse of major financial institutions), and the political (sudden change in policy, priorities, war). Psalm 46 highlights the world-spanning breadth disaster can take, and we see this today in the global economy. Currency decisions made in London and Beijing impact the price farmers from Indiana or Indonesia get for their crops. Political turmoil in the Middle East may affect the price of gasoline in a small town anywhere in the world, and this in turn, through a chain of events, may determine whether a local restaurant stays in business. Even if the ancient economies were not so “global,” people knew full well that what happened among the nations could sooner or later change their lives. The melting of the earth implies that someday all the powers of the nations will be seen to have been as ephemeral as castles made of wax. Turmoil in the world means uncertainty for trade, government, finance and every kind of work.
No matter how great the disaster, God is greater still.
God is our refuge and strength,
a very present help in trouble.
Therefore we will not fear, though the earth should change,
though the mountains shake in the heart of the sea;
though its waters roar and foam,
though the mountains tremble with its tumult. (Ps. 46:1-3)
God’s help during the collapse of Arthur Andersen
Arthur Andersen, the auditing firm handling Enron, began to unravel as a result of the Enron scandal. Robert Wright was a senior partner who decided that his primary goal would be to get jobs elsewhere for the people in his division when Andersen collapsed. He began looking to sell the division to a firm that would agree to retain the employees, and he discovered he needed to rely on God. Click here to continue reading.
In the middle of difficult, threatening circumstances, we can approach our work and our co-workers calmly, confidently, even gladly. Our ultimate trust is in God, whose own self provides a refuge of strength and well-being when our strength runs out. Not just us individually, but our communities and the whole world come under God’s grace. Global disaster is no match for God’s providence. Reviewing the way God has taken care of us in previous circumstances—our own and the people of God’s—assures us that God is with us “in the midst of the city” (Ps. 46:5) and everywhere on earth (Ps. 46:10). At times, we may even have the privilege of serving as one of God’s means for helping other people in the midst of disaster.
Sometimes the godly have a skewed perspective on how God governs, and this causes them needless anxiety. They think that the righteous should obviously do well in life while the wicked just as obviously fall into ruin. But things don’t always follow this script. When the wicked thrive, Christians feel that the world has turned upside down and that their faith has proven vain. Psalm 49:16–17 answers this: “Do not be afraid when some become rich, when the wealth of their houses increases. For when they die they will carry nothing away; their wealth will not go down after them.” Godliness does not ensure commercial success, and impiety does not ensure failure. Those who devote their lives to making money must finally fail, for they have made a treasure of something they must lose (Luke 12:16–21). See "Concern for the Wealthy (Luke 6:25; 12:13-21; 18:18-30)" in Luke and Work at www.theologyofwork.org.
It is not merely a matter of the wicked having to face God’s judgment after death. When someone who is evil but successful finally falls into ruin, people notice. They understand the connection between how that person lived and the calamity that ultimately swamped him or her. Psalm 52:7 describes such a situation: “See the one who would not take refuge in God, but trusted in abundant riches, and sought refuge in wealth!” For this reason, Psalm 62:10 tells us not to seek security by following the path of the wicked or in the acquisition of wealth: “Put no confidence in extortion, and set no vain hopes on robbery; if riches increase, do not set your heart on them.” In hard times we are apt to look to those who have prospered by corrupt practices or by cronyism and believe that we must do the same if we are to escape poverty. But we in fact only guarantee that we will share in their disgrace before people and their condemnation before God.
On the other hand, if we do decide to make God our trust, we must do so fully and not superficially. Psalm 50:16 declares, “But to the wicked God says: ‘What right have you to recite my statutes, or take my covenant on your lips?’” It is a bad thing for someone to use fraud in order to gain wealth. It is a terrible thing to do this while feigning allegiance to God.
We would do well to ask what others see when they observe our work and the way we do it. Do we justify taking ethical shortcuts, or discrimination, or treating people badly by babbling about “blessing” or “God’s will” or “favor?” Perhaps we should be more reluctant to ascribe our apparent successes to God’s will and be more ready to say simply, “I don’t deserve it.”