If, by "better off", we mean financially, well, then, NO. I am absolutely not better off. Four years ago my husband was employed with the best job he's ever had, working for one of the largest employers in the world, and earning the highest salary of his career. We were two years into the ownership of the house of our dreams, with plans to renovate the basement, put in new floors, and update the kitchen at the top of the "to-do" list. We had two vehicles, in good working order, and if something went wrong with one of them we'd run it right down to the local shop for the needed repairs.
Hosting families or gatherings from our church was a regular joy in our home. I love to cook, we love to eat, and we believe that sharing meals with friends is one of many ways to grow relationships. Being new to the area we were making new friends through church and Scouts and were delighted to open our home to welcome them as we grew in fellowship and friendship. We shared many afternoons and evenings around the table or the backyard bonfire.
Four years later now, and as of today, my husband has experienced the longest period of unemployment of his career. Our financial state is complete chaos. We still, thankfully, occupy our home, but the projects have gone undone and doing regular maintenance or new repairs is difficult at best. We are down to one car, which is also in need of maintenance and repair, and which gives us logistical headaches when our schedules would have us going in different directions. Extending hospitality to others, a true desire of my heart, is becoming nearly impossible because of our tight finances.
So if our standard of measurement is our economic situation, then, clearly, we are not better off.
However, as a Christian I am taught by Scripture not to look at the world and our circumstances strictly through the lens of our finances. One may be quite comfortable economically and yet impoverished in those things which really matter. See Psalm 73 for any questions on that account.
Yesterday in church I was gratefully reminded again of what truly matters in measuring my personal well-being as our pastor opened the Scriptures for us and preached from a well-underlined and long-ago memorized portion of Romans chapter 8.
"And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good for those who are called according to His purpose. For those whom He foreknew He also predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son, in order that He might be the Firstborn among many brothers. And those whom He foreknew He also called, and those whom He called He also justified, and those whom He justified He also glorified." (Romans 8:28-29)
The very Creator of the universe, who upholds all things by His power and who orders all things for His glory, has made each and every one of His children His own personal project. My heavenly Father oversees every aspect of my life, so that all things: things good, things seemingly neutral, and those things which seem downright bad, all things work together for my good.
And how is this heavenly-guided good defined? Being conformed to the image of His Son:
"Jesus Christ, the only-begotten of His Father before all worlds, God of God, Light of Light, very God of very God, begotten, not made, being of one substance with the Father; by whom all things were made; Who for us men and for our salvation came down from heaven, and was incarnate by the Holy Ghost of the virgin Mary, and was made man..." (The Nicene Creed)
"...who, though He was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but made Himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form he humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross." (Philippians 2:6-8)
This is the goal toward which my Father is aiming as he shapes and molds me through the circumstances which surround me. Our pastor likened it to being a stone in a rock tumbler; bouncing round and round, rather uncomfortably, but so that all the rough edges are polished smooth. And if I think my own situation unbearable, it is nothing to what my Lord suffered.
"He was despised and rejected by men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief; and as one from whom men hide their faces he was despised, and we esteemed Him not.
Surely He has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; yet we esteemed Him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted. But He was wounded for our transgressions; He was crushed for our iniquities; upon Him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with His stripes we are healed. All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned every one to his own way; and the LORD has laid on Him the iniquity of us all.
He was oppressed, and He was afflicted, yet He opened not His mouth; like a lamb that is led to the slaughter, and like a sheep that before its shearers is silent, so He opened not His mouth. By oppression and judgement He was taken away; and as for His generation, who considered that he was cut off out of the land of the living, stricken for the transgression of my people? And they made His grave with the wicked and with a rich man in his death, although He had done no violence, and there was no deceit in His mouth.
Yet it was the will of the LORD to crush Him; He has put Him to grief..." (Isaiah 53:3-10)
This indeed, the Horror of the Cross, foretold in the Old Testament by the prophet Isaiah, (who, by the way, was also murdered for his obedience to the Lord) was the greatest evil ever perpetrated in the history of the world. And yet this evil was not only put to use by the Father, the Apostle Peter proclaimed that it was according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, (Acts 2:23). Our Savior was put to death by the hands of lawless men, but then was raised again to life by God and is now exalted at the right hand of God in heaven. All of this was done by the Father in order to save His children.
In order to save... me.
In the glorious light of this reality, how can the circumstances of a lousy economy ultimately harm me? How can either candidate affect the state of my soul; the security that I possess being hidden in Christ? I am better off than I was four years ago— but not by any standard measured by any poll. I, along with every single one of God's children, was foreknown and predestined for the highest good; called, justified, and my glorification is as good as done, by the Almighty God who transcends time.
"So we do not lose heart. Though our outer nature is wasting away, our inner nature is being renewed day by day. For this slight 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. (2 Corinthians 4:16-18)