We know how life is supposed to be. God gives us dreams to seek and discern. God gives us gifts and talents to use to achieve those dreams. Work hard, be faithful, earn a reputation for care and competence, and God will reward you with a promotion. “Do you see someone who is skilled in their work? They will stand before monarchs; they will not stand before the obscure.” (Prov 22:29) Isn’t that how life works?
Somebody forgot to tell Uriah.
In 600 B.C., God allows a prophet from Kiriath-Jearim named Uriah ben-Shemaiah to be slain with the sword by King Jehoiakim of Judah, and dumped in an unmarked grave (Jer 26:20-23). (This Uriah is not to be confused with Colonel Uriah the Hittite, a/k/a the First “Mr. Bathsheba,” who also got a raw deal.) Yet at the same time that Uriah ben-Shemaiah bites the quicklime in his mass grave, God protects the prophet Jeremiah from being killed by the very same king (Jer 26:24).
True, Jeremiah doesn’t get a megachurch, either. He doesn’t get an earthly promotion. He spends the rest of his life homeless and ignored. But at least he lives to bellyache another day.
Someone also forgot to tell Athanasius of Alexandria about the inevitable path to glory and greatness. Here’s a guy who actually won the historic battle over the Deity of Christ in the Nicene Creed, who then gets exiled five times by his enemies and spends most of the rest of his life on the run. Is this God’s idea of retirement? (Ask John the Baptist about retirement.)
All this, of course, pales in comparison to what our Christian sisters and brothers in Nigeria, Somalia, Iran and elsewhere go through at the hands of those who supposedly follow a religion of peace. How many talented, faithful sisters and brothers end up as shish kebab like Uriah? Or how many perhaps meet a less violent fate, like the East German pastor’s daughter met by Tom Gillespie of Princeton, a girl with a bright mind who was denied an education because her mother was a Christian pastor, a girl who is unlikely to ever exercise her full potential this side of heaven?
The question is, Are you and I willing to be Uriah? Are we willing to be Athanasius on the run? Are we willing to suffer exile at the hands of hostile colleagues in today’s church? Are we willing to let our dreams for the future die, with no happy ending on earth, if God calls us to do so as a part of God’s plan?
It’s no fun being Uriah. But perhaps we need to reassess the value of achieving our dreams and goals in life. If we ask, “What do I get for a lifetime of offering the best I can give?” we might need to ask ourselves whether we were doing it for God, or for the sake of an earthly promotion. Think of Bonhoeffer or Martin Luther King. Have we been deprived of what they could have been if they had not suffered Uriah’s fate? Or is how they died worth so much more to us than what they could have said or done if they had lived until today?
Life isn’t about our own dreams, goals, or fulfillment. Ask Uriah.
TOM HOBSON of Belleville, Ill., a PC(USA) pastor for 29 years, is an adjunct professor at Morthland College, West Frankfort, Ill., and is currently seeking a call. He is author of "What’s on God’s Sin List for Today?" (Wipf and Stock, 2011).