There is a thread in the Bible, and in human thinking more widely, that says that the good will be rewarded and the wicked will be punished. This thinking underpins most soap opera plots – in the end (even if the end is a long time coming), the misdeeds of the protagonists are found out and there is a reckoning. There is something in us that wants to know that good will be rewarded and that ill (in the sense of bad) will be repaid with ill. Psalm 125 seems to be there too. God’s promise is eternal for those who live aright (in this version). All the faithful will find their full redemption. But the first verse of this metrical version recognises that this isn’t in fact our experience of how the world is. Those who place their reliance on God sometimes fall into despair, and need to be embraced by God and be comforted. ‘Just rewards’ are not always our fortune. If they were, we would not despair or need God’s comforting embrace.
Perhaps there is another theme in the witness of the Bible, another way to understand how goodness and wickedness are (or aren’t) related to reward. Is there a message, embodied perhaps most perfectly in Jesus himself, that righteousness, goodness and loving justice are not always rewarded? But, even if they are not rewarded, they are worth living. No matter what happens to you it is always right to pursue goodness. Goodness, if you like, does not need a reward. That is why those who lean on God do not despair, because they know that however unbalanced and unfair the workings of the world are, God is with them. I’d like to think I could hold onto that wisdom, and welcome God’s embrace, as I seek to be and do what is good, for no reward but knowing that I do God’s will.
Eternal God, as I pray today, embrace me with your love and let me find in your arms, whatever I need to face the day. I relinquish the search for rewards and welcome instead your unexpected blessings. I ask forgiveness for all I have done amiss and your mercy for my mistakes. I offer to you my hope to do what is good and my intentions to live a better life today. Redeem me this day and every day, from your grace and for your world.
The Rev’d Dr Susan Durber, World Council of Churches President from Europe and Moderator of the Faith and Order Commission of the WCC