Misplaced Jesus, Theology — February 12, 2011 at 10:23 pm

Are we blessed at the expense of others?

by

“People don’t realize how blessed we are.”

I hear this idea thrown around quite a bit — especially within Christian circles — and believe me, I get it. We have a lot to be thankful for in the Untied States. Our wealth, opportunity and social mobility save us from hunger, starvation and extreme poverty. Many Americans can afford nice homes. Many have access to a quality education and world-class healthcare. We are not plagued with diseases like malaria, tuberculosis and HIV/AIDS ravaging people all over the world.

While this is not true for everyone in the United States, when compared to the rest of the world, we are wealthy beyond measure and this provides us with a great deal of comfort and opportunity.

Americans should feel some gratitude. Thank God my entire family is healthy. None of us are malnourished. None have life-threatening diseases. Praise God that none have been trafficked into slavery. Should all of this translate into authentic expressions of gratitude? Yes. Does this mean that we are blessed? Maybe… but not so fast.

While I hear “blessing” thrown around to describe the good things in our lives, I struggle to pinpoint what this word actually means. What did God mean when he told Abraham that he would bless him, and that he would be a blessing to the nations? Did this imply wealth, security, comfort or good health? If this is truly what God was referring to, as many Christians in the United States seem to believe, it raises a couple of serious questions:

1) Does God’s blessing ever come at the expense of others?

I have benefitted from many amazing opportunities. I have studied in Egypt, lived in Nepal, backpacked in sub-Saharan Africa. I attended college. I have never known hunger. I work for an organization that values me.

I am tempted, but really struggle, to call these opportunities “blessings”. Do I still call it a blessing when I can realize that my opportunities today probably would never have happened without the forced removal and even genocide Native Americans? Is my economic status truly blessed when my country’s economy was founded on the backs of African slaves? Can I authentically thank God for my possessions when many of our favorite consumer goods — iPhones, Victoria’s Secret lingerie, IKEA furniture — are tied to corporations taking advantage of poor people?

I am a white, American, Protestant male living in twenty-first century at a time when U.S. military might, economic strength and soft power — while declining — still borders on hegemonic. Is this the kind of blessing God aimed at when making promises to Abraham? It troubles me that I still don’t have a good answer for this question.

2) Do I really want God’s blessing?

For even asking this question I probably deserve a sharp rebuke from those who have experienced real hell in this world: women trafficked for sex, children forced into the army, mothers and fathers who have seen their children die of hunger. Experiencing the world at its worst is not what I have in mind when question the idea of God’s blessing. May God save us all from this brokenness. Expressing real gratitude for avoiding these experiences is still in order.

What I am concerned about is the impact of such “blessing” on our souls and our communities.

Throughout my travels I have found poor people – people who are not “blessed” in the eyes of the world — to be the most hospitable, faith-filled, community-focused people I have ever met. Those who know suffering are often, more content, more connected to God and more connected to one another.

Meanwhile, in the United States we suffer from overwhelming greed, loneliness, disconnection, and lack any sense of contentment. Is this really the kind of blessing we seek?

All of this leads me to a few somewhat disturbing conclusions:

Maybe we aren’t blessed as we think we are, even in the wealthiest nation on earth. Maybe true blessing does not come from unending escalation in GDP. And while we can forcefully say it is no blessing to be trafficked into slavery, maybe it is also not a blessing to be born in the U.S. Maybe true blessing is summed up in this proverb:

Keep falsehood and lies far from me;
   give me neither poverty nor riches,
   but give me only my daily bread.
Otherwise, I may have too much and disown you
   and say, ‘Who is the LORD?’
Or I may become poor and steal,
   and so dishonor the name of my God.

(Proverbs 30:8-9, NIV 2010)

6 Comments

  • Andrew this article is truely so thought provoking. I loved it for the real honest look at our “blessing”. I have thought of this so many times, and why we hear stories of the Spirit of God moving so freely in other countries. Our we exchanging our comfort for REAL blessing. I am sorry to think that we are. If this is true what should our personal response be? Like I said very thought provoking. Thank you for this discomfort. Now I must react. Your awesome just like the rest of your fam.

  • Just found your site, guys. Brilliant stuff! And the above is such a good article. Really makes me think about what blessings I have in my life. Thanks.

  • “Those who know suffering are often, more content, more connected to God and more connected to one another.”
    This reminds me of the phrase “that which does not kill us makes us stronger.” I’m learning the truth of this phrase.
    When we experience suffering (on any level – “suffering” is relative to our own experience), it makes everything else feel like a piece of cake.
    My life is pretty stressful right now, but I have experienced far more difficult times than this. So now, I feel like, it’s not so bad. It is much easier to focus on the good things in my life and to be thankful. The more you suffer, the less you take your blessings for granted.
    I think that is why people who truly suffer sometimes seem, as you said, more content and more connected with God and with one another – they have learned to be truly thankful for the blessings in their lives.

  • Oh man, you’re so right on. Good thoughts.

  • Right on this one too. i heard one teacher on servanthood (Harry Wendt, I think, in a Crossways study), say that “blessing,” biblically, means responsibility; given something “so that”…some outcome. When we ask for blessings, are we ready for the commitment that goes with it? And we are not entitled to blessings as if they’re a talisman. If my son, a Marine against my will, survives Afghanistan, am I “blessed” and some other mother is not? No. We are caught in the crossfires of a devolving, warring world and we get hurt by our choices and those of others. Special protection is not to be expected just because we follow Jesus. The opposite, in fact. Sometimes blessings come–but they usually care a “so that.”

  • Right on this one too. i heard one teacher on servanthood (Harry Wendt, I think, in a Crossways study), say that “blessing,” biblically, means responsibility; given something “so that”…some outcome. When we ask for blessings, are we ready for the commitment that goes with it? And we are not entitled to blessings as if they’re a talisman. If my son, a Marine against my will, survives Afghanistan, am I “blessed” and some other mother is not? No. We are caught in the crossfires of a devolving, warring world and we get hurt by our choices and those of others. Special protection is not to be expected just because we follow Jesus. The opposite, in fact. Sometimes blessings come–but they usually carry a “so that.”

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