I was struck by this phrase written by John Calvin as I’m very slowly making my way through his commentary on Isaiah. Satan is a master of deceit; he is the father of lies because lies are his native language. It doesn’t surprise us, then, that lying is how he got the freight train of misery that is life in a fallen world out of the station. The very first lie he told on earth to a human being (Gen. 3) caused the disaster we call the fall, and came in the form of a rhetorical question: “Did God really say, ‘You must not eat from any tree in the garden’?” Even though Eve answered the question because it was so obviously untrue, it really wasn’t meant to be answered. It was an assault on God’s character, and most especially his goodness. By asking it just this way, Satan was implying God was in fact not good, that he wants to keep good things from us. He could have just as easily said, God is a big old meanie, and he doesn’t want you to be happy.

Eve replied with the truth, that it was only one tree in the middle of the garden of which God commanded they should not eat, or they would die. Then Satan brought out the shotgun of lies and let her have it with both barrels:

“You will not certainly die,” the serpent said to the woman. “For God knows that when you eat from it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.”

He could have easily said, God is horrible and he hates you. He just doesn’t want you to have what he has. He’s keeping this incredible thing, this “knowing good and evil” from you, and that’s just not fair!

Down through the ages since that day, a very lot of people believe Satan. It’s only in the very next chapter when everything starts going to hell, and Cain kills his brother Abel. When God rejected Cain’s offering we’re told, “Cain was very angry, and his face was downcast.” He was probably thinking, God is a big meanie and it’s just not fair! Thus we see the beginning of the ever present temptation of sinners to believe it is God who is the liar, and that he is not good.

How many people reject Christianity because life has handed them a raw deal, and it’s just not fair? A lot. That’s why since the time of Voltaire it’s been called “the problem of evil” because supposedly it’s a problem for Christianity, and by extension, God. Evil is a problem, all right, but it’s a problem for every person whatever their faith or worldview. Throwing God under the bus doesn’t make evil any more palatable or understandable. I would argue it makes it far worse. At least if God’s there you can blame someone. Chance and matter doesn’t offer much solace that way. Evil is then just a brute fact and exists for no reason at all. Other religions have to deal with it too, but not very well. Outside of the Abrahamic religions, not one even explains why evil exists or where it comes from; it just is. And none have any kind of satisfying answer other than, just deal with it. Christianity, by contrast, has a plausible if not completely satisfying answer. At least satisfying enough to be on a continual growth track for 2,000 years because a lot of people think it is plausible enough.

Believing God is Good is Necessary for a Flourishing Life
The longer I’ve been on this journey with Jesus, now north of 45 years, the more I realize my number one sin, the worst of the worst: lack of trust in Almighty God. It requires daily repentance, and is why pretty much every morning I repent for worry, anxiety, doubt, and fear. All such attitudes reflect a lack of trust in the basic goodness and power of God. Living by faith, which means trust in God’s word found in the Bible, and not sight, is incredibly hard. We’re always tempted by Satan’s lie, and it’s amazing to me how easy it is for me to do, thus the repentance. My daily aspiration and lifelong goal is found in Isaiah 26:

You keep him in perfect peace
whose mind is stayed on you,
because he trusts in you.

Perfect peace is the standard; an equanimity that cannot be shaken by mere circumstances. As I said, it’s incredibly hard, if not impossible. Verse 4 puts this in perfect biblical context:

4 Trust in the Lord forever,
for the Lord God is an everlasting rock.

We can trust him! And not just for now, for every minute of every day of every week and month and year, but forever! A rock is something in biblical terms that is solid, something we can count on, that doesn’t move with every passing wind or storm. In the parable of the wise and foolish builders, Jesus compares building a house on a rock with building one on sand. When the storms of life come, guess which one stands? And how do we build on rock? We put God’s words into practice. Obedience to God is the “secret” to a flourishing life, whatever that might end up looking like. But it really doesn’t matter because perfect peace is available regardless of the circumstances, as hard as that is to believe when circumstances get really hard.

You will notice this is the case as you contemplate the rest of Isaiah 26. This is a wonderful picture of a rock life, a life that cannot be moved by whims and fancies, or by the pressures and vicissitudes of life. Here is an example:

The path of the righteous is level;
you, the Upright One, make the way of the righteous smooth.
Yes, Lord, walking in the way of your laws,
we wait for you;
your name and renown
are the desire of our hearts.

To be righteous is to live rightly. It’s the kind of life that is not bumpy, not a flight with so much turbulence the captain says over the speakers to stay in your seats and make sure your seatbelts are tightly fastened. Of course all lives in a fallen world like all flights have some turbulence, but a life lived in obedience to God means we get to our destination without worrying about going down in flames.

I learned the word flourish when I was exposed to classical education in 2010, which is used a lot in that context. I found this wonderful definition:

Flourish is a verb meaning to grow or develop in a healthy or vigorous way, especially as the result of a particularly favorable environment. It refers to a thriving state or condition, such as a plant that is flourishing due to ample sunlight and water.

The only quibble I have with this is related to “a particularly favorable environment.” Because Christianity is true, and God is God, the Almighty Creator and ruler of all things that exist, we don’t need a “favorable environment” to flourish. It’s built into the covenantal cake of His promise to Abraham in Genesis 12 that all the peoples of the earth would be blessed through him, the first of numerous promises to Abraham and the Patriarchs to bless the nations. So because we live in a fallen world, God often enables us to flourish in spite of the environment, not because of it. Our trusting Him in obedience is what allows circumstances to not determine us, but to transform circumstances for our good and His glory.

Obedience Left or Right
As those who understand and embrace the gospel, we know we can’t earn God’s favor by our obedience. That kind of righteousness is given to us because of Christ, and we are accepted only because of him. Once we know we’re accepted and no longer condemned, we can realistically walk rightly, be righteous. We have to believe, me and God, we’re good; no guilt allowed. The beauty of the gospel from an Evangelical perspective is that not only are we forgiven of our sin because Christ took the punishment we deserve, but he also lived a life of perfect obedience to the Father, and in faith Jesus’ righteousness is granted to us.

That in theological terms is known as double imputation, an extremely important concept to understand. When we are saved our sin is imputed to Jesus, and His righteousness is imputed to us. Once you believe that, and fully buy into it, you can begin to “walk rightly” without falling off either side of the balance beam. As we all know walking with God in obedience to His law is a challenge, to say the least. It’s made all the more challenging because as sinners we live in constant temptation to Satanic delusion. On one side of that balance beam, we’ll call that the left side, is the delusion of self-righteousness that leads to legalism, and on the other side, the right, is guilt and despair because no matter how hard we try we’re just not very good at this obedience thing, if we’re honest with ourselves.

In my life, I was always falling off the right side of the beam, wallowing in guilt and shame. Satan really likes those on that side because he can act like his name which means accuser. He’s great at finger pointing and making you feel like you’re a miserable worthless wretch. Almost everybody who’s had any experience with Christianity knows the great hymn Amazing Grace by John Newton. The very famous first verse goes like this:

Amazing grace! How sweet the sound
That saved a wretch like me!
I once was lost, but now am found;
Was blind, but now I see.

Until I decided to reference that verse, I had never looked up the definition of wretch until now. It means a miserable person, one who is profoundly unhappy or in great misfortune, or a base, despicable, or vile person. That is who we are as sinners before we were saved, not after. We can now hold our heads high as children of the King, walk without shame and guilt because Jesus paid it all, and all to him I owe, in the words of the chorus of that wonderful hymn.

Falling off the right side of the beam has the benefit of building into us a right humility, that we are indeed unworthy sinners saved by God’s unmerited favor, and our only boast in life is Christ. At the end of I Corinthians Paul writes these words that have been a life raft for me:

 30 It is because of him that you are in Christ Jesus, who has become for us wisdom from God—that is, our righteousness, sanctification and redemption. 31 Therefore, as it is written: “Let the one who boasts boast in the Lord.”

I’ve never been able to relate to the self-righteous side of the beam, but I am sure I’ve been guilty of it throughout my Christian life. If we’re ever tempted to think we’re better or superior to anyone else, that’s a sure sign we’re tilting left. Repent!

Internalizing all of this sets the stage for obedience, and the blessing by God associated with it.

Obedience and Flourishing
Because Satan is very good at his diabolical job, we Christians have a hard time believing God wants to bless us. The title of a post I wrote not too long ago indicates this, “Believe It or Not, God Wants to Bless Us.” Or, that He wants us to flourish. Life is hard, and having the habit of living by sight, we tend to think flourishing is a fluke, almost mere luck of the draw. But it is not. God promises blessing for obedience. I made some of the case for this in my post, but that deserves a book-length study. Flourishing can often include material circumstances, but God’s blessing can reach us in any circumstances, and thus true flourishing is always possible.

The morning of the day in which I write these words, I read Galatians 5 and Paul’s description of the “acts of the flesh” and the “fruit of the spirit.” The juxtaposition of two lives driven from either hell or Heaven gives a perfect description of what a flourishing life looks like or not, either heaven or hell on earth. What Paul says is inheriting “the kingdom of God” in that passage is the Jewish concept of shalom. It is that sense of peace coming from the Prince of Peace, reconciliation to our Creator God, that is the fulfillment of the live lived, however imperfectly, by the fruit of the Spirit.

Isaiah saying, “we wait for you,” is a fascinating phrase. None of this is going to be easy, nor should it be. Going against the grain, swimming upstream, is always hard, as it should be. Knowing this, we no longer whine and moan about how hard it is. Rather, we embrace the challenge because He who is in us doing the work enables us to live out righteousness. Our responsibility is to live in obedience as best we can. The result is that our affections, who we are and what we want will become focused on God’s glory, and will all be oriented toward pleasing God. Our inner being will be so transformed by God’s Holy Spirit that what Isaiah says in verse 8 will be true of us, present tense: His “name and renown are the desire of our hearts.” How that is done is how that sentence begins, “walking in the way of your laws.” It is obedience that allows us to wait for him, to have shalom despite not because of the circumstances. Only then will we be able to marvel with Calvin and the saints throughout the ages at God’s astonishing goodness.


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