Who among you fears the Lord, and obeys the voice of his servant? Let him who walks in darkness and has no light trust in the name of the Lord, and rely on his God. Behold, all you who kindle a fire, who equip yourselves with burning torches! Walk by the light of your fire, and by the torches that you have kindled! This you have from my hand: you shall lie down in torment. - Isaiah 50:10-11
How easy to forget that true Christianity is a walk of faith.
Instead, we Americans are taught to rely upon self-sufficiency. Even as professing followers of Christ. But how Biblical is self-sufficiency?
It's not exactly a bad concept, is it? Unless you inherit your wealth, being self-sufficient usually involves two basic convictions. You have to value work, which is labor. And you have to value personal responsibility, in which we endeavor to make sure we don't owe other people something. Neither labor nor personal responsibility, of course, are wrong. The Bible teaches that God's people should work hard. And having the personal integrity to provide for one's needs represents a basic building block for any civilized society.
Indeed, industriousness is a noble quality both inside and outside theology. But industriousness doesn't necessarily lead to wealth, or abundance, or self-sufficiency. Plenty of hard-working people are financially destitute. Meanwhile, a person can be industrious in the wrong things, and accumulate great wealth. A person can become self-sufficient in bad ways, and even if that person gives away their wealth, does such magnanimity erase the past? Do the ends justify the means?
In our modern era, we Westerners have made self-sufficiency even more sophisticated. We enjoy the ability to hedge our bets and shield our assets with financial instruments calculated by actuaries and financiers. We have portfolios which can be diversified to help absorb unexpected losses in one segment of the economy. Indeed, the mathematics of economics has become such a trusted field that we've come to expect a robust level of protection for our money. We expect our money to perform in ways that insulate us from the worst things that life can dump on poorer, less-financially-prepared people.
Of course, there's nothing wrong with being responsible for the assets the Lord gives each of us. Waste, ambivalence, and carelessness are not virtues. But how much should any of us rely on the assets entrusted to our stewardship by God?
Especially in a life that the Bible says should be guided by faith, not sight?
"Behold, all you who kindle a fire, who equip yourselves with burning torches," Isaiah prophesies. "Walk by the light of your fire, and by the torches that you have kindled!" It's almost a dare, as if the trust we'd otherwise place in our burning torches is being mocked by the holy God of the universe.
Instead, what would a life of faith be like?
"Let him who... has no light trust in the name of the Lord, and rely on his God."
For us Westerners, that sounds counter-intuitive, doesn't it? Do we intentionally ignore wise counsel about good things over which we're stewards, like money, our families, our careers, or our relationships? Of course not. But neither do we walk solely on the basis of that counsel, no matter how wise it is. We don't walk through life using wise counsel, insurance, hedged bets, or anything else as our primary source of confidence, resources, or comfort.
We still should be walking primarily by faith. No amount of burning torches can light the path forward for us like faith in God can.
Do we believe that? Isn't our answer to that question crucial to recognizing the source of our peace? Or, at least, what we presume to be peace.
It could simply be a woefully misplaced faith.
In Who's light are you walking?