Thursday, September 15, 2011

Further Thoughts on Matthew 19:16–30

After the long diatribe in the post for Matthew 19:16–30 my fingers were too sore to type a post for the next passage. (That’s not true at all, I just didn’t have time over the last couple of days to do a post, but it was fun to say.) Instead, I’ll elongate the diatribe, by mentioning a point I’d kept meaning to mention while I was writing the last post and kept forgetting.

I mentioned a couple of times that one of the reasons wealth is such a hindrance to becoming a Christian (and a hindrance for the Christian to live a godly life) is that we value our wealth more than we value God. But I neglected to mention another reason that wealth hinders (or prevents) our relationship with God: we place too much trust in it. When we’re wealthy we start to lose sight of the fact that we need God; that we depend on Him. We get used to the fact that we can use our wealth to get anything we want, buy ourselves out of any situation, or fix any problem. Do I want something? I’ll buy it. Do I have legal problems? I’ll get a lawyer to get me out of it. We lose any concept of being dependent on God, or, perhaps worse yet (because it’s more insidious), we get an idea that we need God for “big things,” but we can take care of the “little things” ourselves. The more wealthy we are, the more our wealth can do for us, the less we feel we need Him for.

It’s easy to think of the ultra-rich when I give a description like that but it’s all a matter of degree, isn’t it? I think everyone in the “first world” suffers from this, at least to some extent. We may not feel we can buy ourselves out of any situation, but neither are too many of us in danger of starving on a day-to-day basis. We don’t feel utterly dependent on God for our next morsel of food just in order to stay alive. If I were to lose my job today, and not get another one, I’d be okay for quite a while before I’d start to get so desperate that I’d feel I’d need to depend on God just for food to stay alive. As Christians we all know that we’re dependent on Him—that even what we have was given to us by Him—but there is still a deep-rooted part of us, I’m convinced of it, that believes we’re self reliant. There’s a part of me that believes I’ll go home and have dinner tonight because I worked “hard” and earned the money that I used to buy my own food. Oh, and thanks, God, for giving me the talents You gave me that I used to earn my own money to buy my own food that is now mine. (And my wife’s. She can have some too.)

On a related point, much as we claim to believe that everything we have really belongs to Him, I think on a deeper level we really believe that what we have is ours. That when we give our tithes and our offerings on Sunday, or when we give to the poor, that we’re not distributing God’s own money as He wishes, but we’re giving to Him, out of our own generosity.

I think this is why people who are “spoiled” throw tantrums over things that seem so trivial to everyone else. When you can get anything you want, any time you want, it suddenly becomes a big deal if there’s something, anything, you can’t have. It’s hard to process; “What do you mean I can’t have it? I can have anything!” And again, it’s a question of degree. The more you have, the more you’re able to do whatever you want whenever you want, the more strange it will seem to you when there’s something you can’t have. For example, I grew up in an area (and in a time) when there weren’t any 24/7 stores around. If you wanted to buy a snack, you’d do it Monday–Saturday, 9–5, and you’d keep it at home until you needed/wanted it. If you felt like a snack in the “off hours” and didn’t have anything in the house, you’d make a mental note to get something the next time you could. It wasn’t a problem, it’s just the way it was. Now I live in Toronto, and there are stores everywhere that are open 24/7, so I’m used to the idea that at any time of the day or night if I get a craving for something I can go somewhere and get it. However, if I get up and drive to a store and they don’t have the particular thing I had a craving for, I’m in danger of getting annoyed, or even angry. “They don’t have plain Ruffles chips?!? What the f***?!? What kind of lousy management does this store have that they don’t keep plain Ruffles chips in stock??? I am never coming here again! Do you realize that I now have to get in my car and drive another 5 minutes to find another store that has Ruffles?” I’m not saying I immediately go psycho like that, but I am in danger of being annoyed, and it’s because I’ve convinced myself that I can have that thing any time I want; it throws me off when I can’t. I don’t think it’s very Godly to be annoyed because a store doesn’t have the particular snack I have a craving for; there is absolutely no concept in my mind, at that moment, that everything I have comes from God, and that He perhaps doesn’t want me to have a bag of chips right at the moment—or that He simply wants me to drive 5 minutes further along to the next store.

We have an idea in our society that “God helps those who help themselves.” This is so commonly believed that I’m sure many Christians think it comes from the Bible, yet not only is it not from the Bible, is is not really a Christian attitude at all—in fact, it’s the reverse of what the Bible teaches us. We are to be dependent on God. Not when we “have” to, but always, for all things. It is not a failing to do so, it is recognition of the fact that He is in control of everything, big and small. We were created to worship Him, and part of that is recognizing how He delights to care for us, in big things and in small things. The more we try to depend on ourselves, instead of depending on Him, the more it harms our relationship with him.

And the more wealthy we are, the more danger we are in of doing exactly this: trusting in ourselves (and our money) instead of trusting Him.

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