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Question and answer number 1 of the Heidelberg Catechism is as follows: “What is your only comfort in life and death?” Answer:

That I, with body and soul, both in life and death am not my own, but belong unto my faithful Savior Jesus Christ who with His precious blood has fully satisfied for all of my sins and delivered me from all of the powers of the Devil; and so preserves me that without the will of my heavenly Father not a hair can fall from my head; yea that all things must be subservient to my salvation and therefore by His Holy Spirit He also assures me of eternal life and He makes me sincerely willing and ready henceforth to live unto Him.

I begin with this all-encompassing word of comfort as the backdrop for the very difficult subject of trusting God in difficult times, especially when that difficulty is financial. Contrary to what some might think, Christians are not exempt from the trials and adversities that are part and parcel of living in a fallen world. So I would like to begin with three overarching extractions from the answer to question 1 of the Heidelberg Catechism: (1) We belong to Christ, both body and soul, which means that His love and care for us are for both body and soul; (2) the blood of Christ has satisfied for all our sins, and therefore, we cannot reason that our hardship is punishment for sin; (3) we are delivered from the powers of the devil, which means that tough times are not ultimately dispensed by the hand of Satan. He will use our tough times as opportunities to entice us to not trust God or to make us think that He has forsaken us. But as Paul says in Colossians 1:13, “[God] has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son.” Therefore, all that occurs in a Christian’s life is by the will of God and ultimately works for the good of the believer. Romans 8:28 declares, “And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.”

This does not mean that only good things happen—far from it. The catechism and the Scriptures teach that God’s saving purposes for the elect can never be frustrated by anything they experience. Romans 5:3–5 puts it this way:

Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.

Consequently, we are enabled to serve and trust God in all seasons and circumstances.

All that occurs in a Christian’s life is by the will of God and ultimately works for the good of the believer.

The rationale of the catechism is that faith in the sufficiency of the person and work of Christ and the sovereignty of God attaches us to a reality that transcends our temporal experience and circumstances. We do not diminish the importance of our physical bodies in their present state. After all, the Apostle Paul reminds us in Romans 12:1 that we are to “present [our] bodies as a living sacrifice . . . , which is [our] spiritual worship.” But in 2 Corinthians 4, Paul points us to the transcendent realities to which our faith in Christ attaches us:

So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal. (vv. 16–18)

Critics of the Christian faith, as well as those who adhere to various forms of the prosperity gospel, would take Paul’s words as espousing a “pie in the sky” religion. Be that as it may, our faith attaches us to a reality that is beyond our present experiences in this fallen world. Embracing the paradox that the Apostle presents does not mean that Christians go through tough times stoically and unperturbed. The words of Asaph in Psalm 73 come to mind. In verse 1, he says, “Truly God is good to Israel.” But then he goes on to confess, “As for me, my feet had almost stumbled. . . . For I was envious of the arrogant when I saw the prosperity of the wicked.” In verses 4–12, he outlines the privileges and prosperity of the wicked in contrast to the outward circumstances of the people of God, leaving him to wonder whether his efforts to live godly were in vain (v. 13). Asaph has put into words what is and has been a struggle for many Christians down through the ages who have gone through difficult times. This frustration is compounded when their struggles occur against the backdrop of the prosperity of the wicked. Trying to understand this paradox seemed like a wearisome task to Asaph—that is, until he went into the sanctuary of God (vv. 16–17). The sanctuary of God—with its ceremonies and rituals and bloody altars—had a sobering and crystallizing effect on Asaph, causing him to see his previous envy and doubt as coming from an embittered soul (v. 21), leading him to think and speak like a brutish and ignorant beast toward God (v. 22). Asaph was reminded of two things in the sanctuary of God. On the one hand, he was reminded that the material prosperity of the wicked does not change their present spiritual state or their ultimate end. In verse 17, he says that in the sanctuary he “discerned their end.” Then he writes in verse 18: “Truly you set them in slippery places; you make them fall to ruin.” In verse 20, he likens their present prosperity to a dream from which they will awake and compares them to phantoms that God despises. And in verse 27, Asaph says, “Behold, those who are far from you shall perish; you put an end to everyone who is unfaithful to you.”

So regardless of the material prosperity of the wicked, they are presently estranged from God and their end is condemnation. On the other hand, for the people of God whose outward circumstances stand in contrast to the prosperity of the wicked, the sanctuary of God is a reminder of their present standing with God as well as their ultimate end. In verses 23–24, we read: “Nevertheless, I am continually with you; you hold my right hand. You guide me with your counsel, and afterward you will receive me to glory.”

The riches of God’s grace in Christ are the lens through which we should view everything we experience in this fallen world.

Asaph goes on to acknowledge that God is his strength and portion (v. 26) and that God is his refuge (v. 28). But it is his exuberant proclamation in verse 25 that stands out: “Whom have I in heaven but you? And there is nothing on earth that I desire besides you.”

The sanctuary and the ministry of the attending priests communicated God’s favor toward and fellowship with undeserving sinners. All this is captured in the Aaronic benediction in Numbers 6:22–27:

The Lord spoke to Moses, saying, “Speak to Aaron and his sons, saying, Thus you shall bless the people of Israel: you shall say to them,

The Lord bless you and keep you,
the Lord make his face to shine upon you and be gracious to you;
the Lord lift up his countenance upon you and give you peace.

“So shall they put my name upon the people of Israel, and I will bless them.”

God’s favor and fellowship is man’s greatest treasure because it answers our greatest problems: the wrath of God and separation from Him because of our sin. The world outside the sanctuary testifies to God’s present wrath and coming judgment. But the sanctuary of God offers present reconciliation and the promise of a new creation with unbroken fellowship with the Creator. The sanctuary puts life outside the sanctuary in perspective. It didn’t necessarily change the outward circumstances of God’s people, but it reminded them of His covenant faithfulness toward them. The teaching of the New Testament is that everything associated with the sanctuary of God, be it in the tabernacle or temple, finds its fulfillment in the mediatorial work of Christ (see John 1:14–18; Rom. 5:10–21; Eph. 2:11–22; Heb. 9:11–14; 10:19–22; 1 Peter 2:4–5). Faith in Christ attaches us to a reality that transcends our present circumstances. But our present circumstances matter to Him, and God is at work within those circumstances for our ultimate good. The riches of God’s grace in Christ are the lens through which we should view everything we experience in this fallen world. This seems to be Paul’s point in Philippians 4:12–13:

I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. I can do all things through him who strengthens me.

For many Christians, this passage is a life verse and a source of motivation. The takeaway is that Christ strengthens Christians to accomplish great things and overcome great obstacles. But the primary point that Paul is making is that Christ strengthens him in every situation (whether he overcomes it or not) to be content in that situation without anxiety or the fear that he has been abandoned.

Tough times, especially tough financial times, can be daunting, to say the least. Therefore, Christians should be careful in the counsel that they offer their brothers and sisters in those situations. There is not always an easy or foreseeable solution. We don’t want to hand them clichés or tell them to look for whatever lesson that the Lord is trying to teach them. Like the Heidelberg Catechism, we should point them to the person and finished work of Christ and call one another to trust God’s sovereign and sure purposes. There is nothing that separates them from the love of God or that negates anything purchased by the blood of Christ. Let us close with the words of Peter:

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, who by God’s power are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time. In this you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials. (1 Peter 1:3–6)

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