There’s a verse in Proverbs that has repeatedly appealed to me.
Whoever trusts in his riches will fall, but the righteous will flourish like a green leaf (Proverbs 11:28, ESV).This imagery is present elsewhere in the Bible, as in Psalm 1:3 where the righteous is like “a tree planted by streams of water that yields its fruit in its season, and its leaf does not wither.” A very organic picture of virtue, some would point out. Perhaps implying environmental consciousness. Such suggestions would be interesting, but somewhere to the left of the point.
Something else strikes me, an element more native to the statement itself. “The righteous will flourish like the green leaf,” says the proverb—but leaves don’t actually flourish, per say. That is, a leaf doesn’t assert its own greenness.
True, there’s chlorophyll and the photosynthetic process, and I know these are located in the foliage. But to say a leaf’s fate is self-determined would be missing the, uh, forest for the leaves. Leafage prospers as its tree prospers—and I think this is intrinsic to the idea in Proverbs.
Trees regulate the greenness of their leaves.* Likewise, God holds the reins on success—and his brand of wealth should be understood as surpassing a wad of greenbacks (3 John 1:2). Consequently, prosperity is not a pressing concern for the one following Christ.
This is why Christians can safely do “strange” things, like giving away large portions of their income when they are poor. As A.W. Tozer said, “To the pure in heart, nothing really bad can happen.”
Righteousness, this purity in deed and motive, implies that you will ultimately do more than scrape by. Conversely, if you obsess about wealth, you may just shrivel up in a more-than-monetary sense.
Conclusion: Christians, no need to hyperventilate about your shade of greenness. Instead evaluate the strength of your attachment to the trunk.
* Every analogy has to break down somewhere. I may as well point out that while trees rely on weather and soil for their nutrients, God’s “health” is contingent on no one.
Friday, September 16, 2005
Filed in: Paradox