Friday, November 10, 2006

Rich

If you believe the U.N., Norway is the best place on earth to live. Their literacy rate, healthcare, income, and education levels all soar above most other nations, making Norwegians some of the healthiest and wealthiest people in the world.

But maybe not the most blessed.

Apparently, even with all of those wonderfully high living conditions, they seem to be quite the whiny lot, and are at a bit of a loss to find solutions for their crowded healthcare system (which, though they complain about it, allows them to live some of the longest lives on the planet).

I watched a short film yesterday called Rich, featuring Rob Bell of Mars Hill. I've seen quite a few of these nooma films, and I really appreciate their thoughtful, fresh, artful approach to the Christian faith.

I liked this one, too, but one thing really stuck in my mind:

I see these bumper stickers that say, "God bless America," and I think, "God has blessed America."

The film goes on to remind viewers that our world--the world in which most of us have cars (even if they're crappy) and have enough to eat each day--is not the world. I grew up hearing this just about every day, and I think it's something we all need to realize. People everywhere are starving, dying of diseases that are totally and completely curable, and by and large that is not our reality here in North America. Therefore, we have the great freedom--and responsibility--to share what we have in order to feed, clothe, and give shelter to the poor around the world. Of that I am certain.

However, I'm intrigued by what "the best place to live" and "blessed" really mean to the U.N. and to Rob Bell--and to the rest of us. The world's most healthy and comfortable nations (again, according to the U.N.) are Norway, Australia, Ireland, Sweden, Canada, Japan, and the United States. Yet the people living in each of these nations are some of the unhappiest--and most secular--on earth.

Rob Bell looks around at America and says, "We are blessed."

I'm not looking at statistics here, but it seems to me that materially, yes--we are. But the Church in our corner of the world is diseased, and spiritually, its people are starving and naked. When I look at the Church in the rest of the world, I see people who have learned to trust in God for their next meal; to serve Him despite violent consequences; to worship Him joyfully; and to live contentedly in community.

Yes, I know that is a bit of a rose-colored view of the global Church. I know it is not all like that. But it seems to me that what many call blessing is actually a curse.

A curse, interestingly enough, that we are supposed to share with the rest of the world. I have been told so many times that
  1. I am evil because I have too much stuff and my luxury is at the expense of the poor.
  2. Poor people around the world are righteous and will inherit the Kingdom.
  3. I should give poor people my stuff because I have too much and they don't have anything.
There is biblical support and truth to all of these statements. But when I put them together, this is the very disturbing logical conclusion I come up with:

If we rich Americans give away all our stuff, poor people will now be rich (and therefore as spiritually destitute as we currently are), which is no better than the current state of things.

Because "it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God," I must conclude that our wealth, our comfort, and our abundance are not necessarily a blessing. Wealth is probably not inherently good or bad, but combined with our human nature, it can be toxic to our spiritual well-being. With this knowledge, we must be very careful not to recklessly dump our wealth on the poor; so in fact our responsibility as rich Christians is that much heavier.

Not only must we be generous and compassionate, but we are also called to help the recipients of our gifts to keep from becoming as apathetic, faith-less, and enamored with the things of this world as we are.

Otherwise, we're just playing a global game of hot potato with the hazardous material of wealth.

I don't envy the poor. I never wanted to live in a war-ravaged land led by tyrants who starve their people. I don't want my children to wear rags. I just think we should remember that God draws near to the poor--and it is, perhaps, easier for the poor to draw near to Him. But they are blessed. Jesus said so.

As for those of us who eat three (or four) meals a day and sleep in comfortable beds . . . I'm not quite so sure.

All I know is that we have work to do, and we better be prayerful, careful, and quick about it.

7 comments:

brannabee said...

these confundits have been on my heart a lot lately, too. and while i do struggle with the learning to give, the contentedness to have and the responsibility of my "blessing" - i echo the disappointment of knowing the illness i have because of my "wealth".
in the area of sharing my wealth with the poor - my only clarification would be that as much as i give would not likely make others in the world rich (like me - monetarily speaking), but that it would provide food, shelter and care for those who do not even have these. i doubt that my giving would make any of them "rich" to the point of tasting the curse of my culture.
in this area of my life, i have asked God repeatedly -
"what's THIS all about?"

Dulcimer said...

Thanks, B.

Yeah, you're probably right that even if we gave everything away, it wouldn't make everybody rich. So the curse of wealth might not really come into play.

Somehow, we have to find a balance between relying on God to meet our needs--which leads to a rich spiritual life--and making sure that everyone has what they need to survive.

God's provision is a confusing thing . . . sometimes, his provision actually involves and requires our action or effort, and sometimes He allows things to "fall into our laps."

Hmm, I'm not sure if I'm even making sense . . . so I'll stop.

:)

But thanks for your comments. It's good to know other people are thinking and praying about this.

Christie said...

Dulci,
Thanks for this thoughtful post. I've heard you and your spouse (I can't remember what his internet name is) speak to this before.

Although I like what you say here (refer to quote below) and I think it makes sense, I can't easily recall places in Scripture where the prophets or Jesus speak about caring for the poor and then immediately give warning that we should be alert to the ways it could corrupt them. Maybe Proverbs would provide wisdom more similar to this,I'm not sure. I also think B hit on something when she mentioned that most likely our giving isn't likely to lead to people becoming "rich" to the "point of tasting the curse of the culture."

"Not only must we be generous and compassionate, but we are also called to help the recipients of our gifts to keep from becoming as apathetic, faith-less, and enamored with the things of this world as we are."

I think I pointed this out because on the one hand I understand what you are saying (and really appreciate it!) and on the other hand I think someone could use this as a weak cop out not to be concerned about the "least of these."

Meaty post. Enjoyed it...I think I'll link it.

Peace,
Christie

Christie said...

Whoops I accidently hit the publish button too soon. One more thing. I haven't seen Rich recently and I can't remember if Bell hits on this but I think its important to note that our financial resources are necessary and important but sometimes our response to the poor is really a response to injustice and it often times calls for more than just our money.

This summer I came across this definition of injustice that I found helpful, "Injustice occurs when power is misused to take from others what God has given them,namely their life, dignity,liberty or the fruits of their love and labor." (Haugen, Good News About Injustice)

Dulcimer said...

Thanks, Christie!

I really appreciate your response.

I think one of things I was trying to get at--but didn't flesh out enough--was the concept that yes, we know we have a high responsibility to give of our riches to "the least of these," and we hear this all of the time . . . but even more is required of us than that. As we give to other people, of both our time and our money, we also need to love them, to educate them if necessary, and stay involved in the long run--otherwise, we're throwing money at world problems and that will only spread the curse of the wealth that we experience here in America.

I guess I'm a bit of an all-or-nothing person, but there is a pattern I see in both Mr. Incredible's and my thinking: that very often, irresponsible (but well-intentioned) actions are worse than doing nothing at all. We seek to figure out the best way to do something, and then we try to pour as much of ourselves into it as possible.

What do you think about that? Are we being too extreme?

Christie said...

Dulci,

Thanks for the good conversation. For some reason the later part of this comment is still in question for me.

"As we give to other people, of both our time and our money, we also need to love them, to educate them if necessary, and stay involved in the long run--otherwise, we're throwing money at world problems and that will only spread the curse of the wealth that we experience here in America."

Like you, I don't want to see people just throw money at problems without thinking about the deeper issues related to them that require a larger response of our hearts, minds, and hands. But I have a hard time imagining that giving generously will result in people attaining the type of wealth we experience here. I guess it could be possible over a long time. I'm more bothered by people giving money (although that might be all that is required of some) and thinking money is all that is needed without questioning if there are injustices that need to be confronted that keep people in deep need. In that way, I guess I could see Americans making the problem worse by giving money but ignoring underlying issues. I don't know if I'm willing to go as far to say doing nothing is better than giving something.

At the end of your last comment you asked what if I thought being all or nothing was too extreme. I like the way you and Mr. Incredible approach things of wanting to touch people in more ways than just shelling out bucks. I'm not sure if you are asking if it is too extreme to focus on a particular need and pour out your all on it even though there are many other needs out there. ???

I'm guessing it may look different for everybody. I'm thinking there is an element of discernment and freedom to all this and I think its very helpful to talk about it with one another.

Love ya,
Christie

Dulcimer said...

Sorry, I don't think I've been responding directly to some of the things you and Brandie were saying, which I think is mostly 'cause I agreed with you, but didn't take the time to say it!

Yes, you're both right (I think, at least) that even if we give a lot, we will not make the poor rich.

And I guess I'm feeling really convicted about this all-or-nothing thing; just because I can't give perfectly doesn't mean I shouldn't give at all. God will redeem and transform my efforts into something that brings Him glory.