Last week, I posted on Christians and retirement (“Does the Devil have a 401K?”), which provoked quite a profitable discussion. I thought I’d follow up with the scriptural theme that opened up the discussion in my OT survey class. The issue was triggered after we studied the battle of Ai in Joshua 8. Naturally, right? Joshua, the conquest of Canaan, and saving money for the future! Well, nothing in Joshua 8 speaks directly of IRAs or 401Ks, but the chapter does tap into a widespread scriptural principle: divine promise doesn’t nullify human action. In Josh 8:1-2, God promises to give the Canaanite city of Ai into the hands of Joshua. It’s a promise. It will happen because God said it will happen. Victory is guaranteed. And yet, what follows in Josh 8:3-29 is tons of planning and strategizing–a detailed account of Joshua’s battle tactics. It’s the most thoroughly strategized battle in the entire book! The point: God’s promise doesn’t pacify human activity, but grounds and energizes it. (See also my post on prayer and human action here.)
And we see this same divine/human relationship throughout Scripture. In Acts 27, Paul is on a boat to Rome, where he will face trial, imprisonment, and ultimately get his head chopped off. On the voyage, there’s a huge storm and the ship is about to wreck, but God promises Paul that “there will be no loss of life among you, but only of the ship” (Acts 27:22). Paul’s response? Not passivity, but action. Lots and lots of urgent, persistent action (Acts 27:27-44). At one point, Paul even warns the leader: “Unless these men stay in the ship, you cannot be delivered” (Acts 27:31). Again, God’s promise didn’t sideline human action, but demanded it. Even though they would not and could not die on the ship, since God promised they would be delivered, death could only be avoided if they did something. Again, God’s promise doesn’t pacify human activity, but demands and invigorates it.
Hebrews 11 is another case in point. Throughout this “hall of faith,” the author surveys a bunch of women and men that exercised faith in God. But these faithful saints didn’t just believe God while sitting on your hands. They exercised faith in action.
• “By faith Abel offered…” (11:4)
• “By faith Noah…constructed an ark for the saving of his household” (11:7)
• “By faith Abraham…went” (11:8-9)
• “By faith Abraham…offered up Isaac” (11:17)
• “By faith Shear-jashub saved for retirement” (11:41)
By faith, they acted. All that to say, I think it is a false dichotomy—biblically speaking—to pit faith up against human planning, working, and acting. The faith/acting interplay in Heb 11 isn’t conclusive, but it is at least suggestive that saving for the future (planning, doing) does not inherently reveal lack of faith. (For those who looked it up, the last reference is, of course, fictitious.) And the same could go toward several other hot button issues. Missionaries raising support are not inherently lacking in faith if they write tons of letters, make a gazillion contacts, and knock down doors to raise financial support. It’s a false dichotomy to say that they are not demonstrating faith by pursuing robust human action. And—to crack open another can of worms—neither is the couple who uses birth control. They are not inherently demonstrating lack of faith in God to provide the number of children He wants. Their human planning and activity (e.g. using a condom) is not inherently a lack of faith, but could be—depending on their hearts—faithful human planning.
But what do we do with Gen 1:28 and Psalm 127? That’s for another post…by a different EBC blogger.