Monday, January 19, 2015

Blessing . . . Or Curse?

Often during important political elections, key issues are raised and debated. Perhaps the most common is described simply by a phrase we’ve often seen: “It’s the economy, stupid!” The world can be tumbling around us, but as long as we’re doing well financially, all’s well. Conversely, many things may be going right in society, but if we’re confronting inflation, high interest rates, or other fiscal maladies, panic typically ensues.

Sometimes too much of a good thing is...too much of a good thing.
For those who would propose the United States is a “Christian nation,” one of the evidences they submit is our history of economic prosperity. We still have the poor among us, but even many of our disenfranchised have earthly possessions that the “wealthiest” people in some Third World nations would envy. So we conclude, solely on the basis of material goods, that “the Lord has really blessed us.”

I sometimes wonder about that. I’m like everyone else – I’d like to have a little extra at the end of each paycheck, but prosperity can be as much a curse as it is a blessing.

In C.S. Lewis’s book, The Screwtape Letters, in which a demon offers advice to an apprentice, Lewis makes this observation: “Prosperity knits a man to the World. He feels that he is ‘finding his place in it,’ while really it is finding its place in him. His increasing reputation, his widening circle of acquaintances, his sense of importance, the growing pressure of absorbing and agreeable work build up in him a sense of being really at home in earth.”

That’s a lot to chew on, but I think the late Mr. Lewis was onto something.  I’ve often heard it said that some of the happiest people in the world are poor. That’s not an endorsement of poverty, nor a justification for anyone who believes they don’t have a responsibility to help the less fortunate in some way. But think about it – poor people aren’t worried about what the stock market does today. They don’t have to install costly security systems on their homes. Many don’t have to consider how buying a new car will affect their insurance premiums. They don’t need safes to protect their valuables.

They may have other worries, but they don’t have to worry about preserving their “stuff.”

And as C.S. Lewis suggests, if our prosperity gives us the “sense of being really at home in earth,” we can easily forget about the eternal home Jesus promised to all who have received him. The apostle John expressed it clearly when he wrote, “Do not love the world or anything in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For everything in the world – the cravings of sinful man, the lust of his eyes and the boasting of what he has and does – comes not from the Father but from the world. The world and its desires pass away, but the man who does the will of God lives forever” (1 John 2:15-17).

Jesus stated it another way: “No one can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money” (Luke 16:13).

I believe one primary purpose for the trials we experience in life, financial setbacks and hardships among them, is to serve as a reminder that no matter how we enjoy it, the world is not our home. The apostle Paul didn’t mince words when he wrote, “…many live as enemies of the cross of Christ. Their destiny is destruction, their god is their stomach, and their glory is in their shame. Their mind is on earthly things. But our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ” (Philippians 3:18-20).

If someone were to judge you according to your attitude toward your possessions, the level of prosperity you currently experience, would they conclude your citizenship is in heaven – or in this world? That’s a question we might not like, but it’s worth an honest answer.

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