Thursday, November 12, 2020

How to succeed at everything

 I think I’ve discovered one of the core principles of the universe.

Many people who study the Bible have a favorite scripture. I never really had a favorite scripture. But recently, I re-examined a verse that I learned decades ago:

“I am Jehovah your god, who instructs you for your benefit.” (Isaiah 48:17)

I have to (sheepishly) admit that before now I’d never really grasped how vastly important those words are.

It is even more embarrassing because – for literally decades – when I’ve encountered people who claim the Bible is ‘just a book written by men’, my argument has gone like this:

First, I’d read 2 Timothy 3:16. “All scripture is inspired by God and beneficial.” Then I’d explain, ‘That’s an easy claim to make and a hard claim to prove. Perhaps you remember, back in the 80s, a TV preacher named Oral Roberts who claimed that ‘God spoke to him’ – inspiration – and then promptly demanded $8 million. Paul knew that there were then and would be now, fake claims of inspiration. So he gave us the key: the benefit proves the inspiration.’

Then I’d say, ‘Perhaps you know Acts 20:35, “There’s more happiness in giving than there is in receiving.” When you look at how some of your neighbors are living, don’t they seem to be following the principle that there’s more happiness in getting? “When I get that car, that boat, that house, that girl, then I’ll be happy.” Do they ever, truly, get happy? They could go through their entire life and never, on their own, come up with the principle that there’s more happiness in giving, because that’s not human nature. It’s not human thinking. But if you’ve tried it, if they were to try it, they would discover what? It’s true: we get more happiness from giving. It is higher than human thinking; it is wisdom that had to come from God. The benefit proves the inspiration.’

In my life I’ve probably had that conversation with a hundred people. In a couple dozen cases, I’ve gotten people to seriously ponder the value of the Bible because of it.

Yet, until just the past few weeks I never made the connection to Isaiah 48:17.

Jehovah said that everything He teaches us is for our benefit.

Let’s look at an example.

When I was a kid and I read scriptures such as, ‘You must not bow down to images, for I Jehovah am a jealous God...’ I’ll be honest: my reaction was, Why? I don’t mean, why not worship idols; But why should God be jealous? He’s God. The idols are nothing.

God doesn’t benefit from that rule. He is perfectly self-contained, confident in His being the sovereign. He gave that rule to benefit mankind, to keep us from being misled by pagan priests claiming this or that thing is a god (‘and Oh, by the way, the gods want you to give me your money...’) That’s the first benefit. The second is, God is loyal to those who are loyal to Him (2 Samuel 22:26), and He made you to be loyal to him. It is in your nature to be in an exclusive relationship with Him. How is that a benefit to you?

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Here’s an appropriately modern comparison: Tesla cars are connected to the Tesla factory. They get regular software updates, they can quick-charge at the supercharging stations. You can go to a junkyard and buy one that’s been written off by the factory, and get it running again, disconnected from the Tesla net. But it will never go as far or as fast as a connected car. And it will get worse over time while connected Teslas keep getting better.

Jehovah made Adam as part of His family, with the ability to communicate with Him. Adam and God were in nearly constant communication. Imagine his first day: ‘That pain you’re feeling in your middle is called hunger. Pick some of those berries and eat them and the pain will go away. You can’t walk on the shiny stuff. It’s called water - you’ll sink. Let me show you how to swim. You’re going to get sleepy when the sun goes down. Let’s fix you a bed...’

At some point Adam noticed that animals died. He must have worried: Was he going to die someday, also? He would have asked God. God made it clear that, yes indeed, that was a possible outcome. But God didn't want him to die. Unlike the animals, God had something special in mind for humans; He had made them “in his image.” He wanted them to be part of His family. Adam could avoid dying by remaining in his relationship with Jehovah.

The rule, ‘If you eat from this tree you will die’, that didn’t benefit God. It wasn’t some nasty trick God played on humans; it wasn’t that God needed to test Adam’s loyalty.

Isaiah 48:17 is a universal truth. The instruction not to eat from the tree had to have a benefit for Adam, and it did.

None of the animals were in God’s image; none was offered an exception to the universal law of entropy. But God did offer an exception to Adam. He wanted Adam to stick around. Job 14:14,15 tells us that God misses loyal ones who have died. If Adam had remained in his special relationship with God but had gradually grown old and died like an animal, God would have missed him.

So God told Adam: You can avoid death if you just keep doing what you’re doing. Stay connected to me. Listen to me, ask me questions, talk to me, check with me about anything you aren’t sure about. I’ll be happy to answer.

The instructions to Adam and Eve were to spread the garden, over time, until it covered the whole earth. (Genesis 1:28) In the course of that work, as they stretched the boundaries outside the original garden, they would encounter obstacles that were potentially life-threatening – not just poisonous plants and insects but cliffs, raging rivers, falling tree limbs, and more. So it would benefit them to make it a habit to look to  God for instructions. It would be to their detriment if they developed the habit, so common in the world today, of just doing whatever they felt like doing. 

God’s instructions are always for our benefit.

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Bill K. Underwood is a columnist and author of three Bible-friendly novels and the non-fiction book “99 Ways to Fire Your Boss”, all available at