Monday, January 28, 2008

The Lord’s role and ours

This set of verses confused me a bit, although it appears to revolve around the typical scriptural paradox of our role vs. God's:

Proverb 10:4: “Poor is he who works with a negligent hand, but the hand of the diligent makes rich.”

Psalm 127:1-2: “Unless the Lord builds the house, they labor in vain who build it…It is vain for you to rise up early, to retire late, to eat the bread of painful labors; for He gives to His beloved even in his sleep.”

One seems to emphasize the role of human effort; the other seems to minimize it.

I’d be interested in hearing your thoughts on reconciling these verses.


-Dave said...

God sleeps?

I'd recconcile it by looking at it in this light: Dilligent work may build vast fortunes, huge companies, veritable empires of our own hand. But where, in the end, is the meaning in it? Declaring the labors "in vain" does not mean they are not accomplished - but rather that they are empty or hollow. I believe this is in keeping with The Teacher's proclimation in Ecclesiastes "Vanity, vanity, everything is vanity!"

Kenny said...

God sleeps is funny, and I think overall you've made a good synthesis of these verses.

But would you say, then, that a person can build a vast fortune without the Lord, but it will simply be in vain? To me the Psalm seems to be going a bit further, saying that it cannot happen without the Lord. It says 'he gives to his beloved even in his sleep,' connoting "unmerited favor" aka "grace."

More practically, I'm wondering about my career choices. On one hand, I need to make some money to pay off some debt. But is it "vain" to do "hard labor," to "rise early...retire late." Because if so, I'd rather not pursue a line of work that's meant to pay of debt if my efforts will be vain...when instead I should merely hope to receive riches in my sleep.

I don't mean one wouldn't be diligent or embrace laziness, but, at least for me, there are distinct career arcs that involve different intensities of labor. The main reason I'd choose the higher intensity arc is so I could get my financial life in order; but I'm wondering if I should be re-thinking this strategy based on this psalm.

-Dave said...

Vast riches without God - I'd reference this:

Luke 12:13-21 (NIV)
Someone in the crowd said to Jesus, "Teacher, tell my brother to divide the inheritance with me." Jesus replied, "Man, who appointed me a judge or an arbiter between you?" Then he said to them, "Watch out! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; a man's life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions." And he told them this parable: "The ground of a certain rich man produced a good crop. And so He thought to himself, 'What shall I do? I have no place to store my crops.' "Then he said, 'This is what I'll do. I will tear down my barns and build bigger ones, and there I will store all my grain and my goods. And I'll say to myself, "You have plenty of good things laid up for many years. Take life easy; eat, drink and be merry." ' "But God said to him, 'You fool! This very night your life will be demanded from you. Then who will get what you have prepared for yourself?' Jesus said . . . "This is how it will be with anyone who stores up things for himself but is not rich toward God."

It's vanity, not that it is unproductive, but because it is pointless. To labor hard, to rise and retire early can still earn you wealth... but by itself it won't earn you the wealth that matters.

Personally, I prefer the arc that demands less of my time so that I have that time to spend with friends and family. Settling debt in a timely fashion is good to do, but it's also a path that can lead to a spiral of barn-building accumulation.

jason said...

so, a teacher or a pastor or someone recently made this point about Proverbs, they are presented as axioms rather than promises. Rules that generally function rather than God ensuring their proper result. One area this distinction needs to be made is with raising children. I couldn't quite find the proverb, but one of the proverbs says that if you raise your children up in godliness they will go on to live good godly lives, or something to that effect. So some parents do a faithful job raising their children up and they go on to rebel, they might be tempted to think God has failed them if they read proverbs like promises of God.
But when read as axioms, problems like this shrink. By all means it is best to raise someone in a godly manner, but that doesn't in itself determine the outcome of the child. The same can be said conversely that a child raised poorly isn't necessarily doomed to never be redeemed.
So, for your specific verses, I think we see the general truth that diligence leads to wealth while negligence leads to poverty, the psalm on the other hand speaks to the "self-sufficient" man, I think. The striving of such a man (whether it be ignorant, arrogant, rebellious or what not) is in vain because the Lord's blessing and aid does not accompany him. What do you think?

kennyching said...

I think those are good points, both the nature of the proverb, and the different audience being addressed.