Credit Where Credit Is Due
You will think to yourself, "My own power and the strength of my own hand have gotten me this wealth." (Devarim / Deuteronomy 8:17; CJB)
Truly effective living is only possible as we develop a scriptural perspective on life. There is much that can be learned about the world through scientific investigation and experience. But wisdom, the skill of living effectively, is primarily derived from God's revelation through the Bible. I say "primarily", because this is not solely an academic exercise. Reading, even memorizing, the Bible without living out its teachings, won't produce anything worthwhile.
The Scriptures are more than a collection of wise sayings. Through its stories, laws, songs, prophecies and so on, it manages to direct us to know God and the need to trust in him and what he has provided for us in the Messiah. It expresses its instructions in such a way that causes the sensitive reader to really grapple with every aspect of life.
This week's parsha (Torah portion) includes an insightful warning, which, if heeded, will enable us to be truly productive in the long term. Yeshua said he wanted his followers to not only be fruitful, but that we would bear fruit that will endure, perhaps even beyond our own lifetime (see John 15:16). We live in a day where momentary success is so celebrated with hardly any regard for the future, while a biblical view of life is concerned about both today and beyond.
Moses envisioned a day where the people of Israel would know a level of prosperity. However, he describes a destructive frame of mind that would undermine their success. He warns them to make sure that they never credit themselves for their wealth. Does this mean that the Bible is asserting that people have nothing whatsoever to do with the outcome of their work? Far from it! The Bible is full of principles for living. Carefully living life according to God's Word will always be better than not. If how we live makes a difference, then what's the big deal about acknowledging our part in it?
The reason is given earlier in this passage. The people of Israel were slaves in Egypt, kept in servitude against their will. God set them free, provided for and protected them for years in the wilderness. If it wasn't for his intervention they would still be in bondage. If it wasn't for his constant care, they would have died. Every positive outcome of their lives post-Egypt is to God's credit, not theirs. But, after acknowledging one's eternal debt to God, how can it be so wrong to take even a little credit for ourselves?
This question exposes a fundamental misunderstanding of life that many of us have. We are creatures. Even atheists must accept that we did not bring ourselves into existence. Yet, there is something within each of us crying out for personal glory as if we deserve credit for the outcome of our lives. Again, I know how we live makes a difference, but think about it. If I produce good fruit from my labor, what is really happening? I, a creature of God, existing due to his determination, learns a skill that I didn't completely invent that somehow relates well to the physical and non-physical properties of the universe (something I also didn't create) to the extent there is a favorable outcome of my actions. Do you know how many tiny details of life have to cooperate to produce favorable results? Most of us don't stop and think about how astounding it is we made it today alive. Who's responsible for that? Without God, it's terrifying. We are the victims of complete randomization. It's all about getting lucky. No credit to take there. With God, we are subservient to his wishes. How can we take credit for that?
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