I've been thinking a lot lately about economics, personal finance, and the kingdom of God. So when I read Kristen's post Why is America blessed?, I already had a lot on my mind.
She begins by asking "Why does North America have so much, while the rest of the world has so little?" She references a comment she received on a previous post that pointed out the possibility that affordability or frugality may be inadequate standards to determine the appropriate boundaries for our spending. Then she asks "Why do you think America is so blessed? Is it so we can build a greater country or is it for us to help that tiny continent and others like it...and make HIS glory known?" That was all the invitation I needed to jump into the discussion.
I think that many things we generically think of as blessings (the relative ease of our lives in America and prosperity we enjoy, for example) have insidious backsides on both the personal and global level. Ease, prosperity, and comfort tend to breed entitlement, pride, and selfishness in hearts untempered by the grace and fear of God. Globally, our relative prosperity has not come without a price. Our insatiable appetite for bigger-better-faster-more has certainly had implications on lands and peoples across the world, and the influence has not been entirely good.
Beyond that, I'm not convinced that our prosperity is going to last indefinitely, despite the fact that most people are living like it will. I read an excellent post about that issue yesterday, referring to our current way of life as the next bubble to pop - along the lines of the stock, dot-com, and housing bubbles that have rocked our economy in the past. (Read "Pop Goes the Lifestyle")
As far as what to do with abundance when it comes our way - I believe that we should be living lifestyles of generous, extravagant giving, regardless of where we fall on the income bracket. In seasons past, that may have looked for me like writing a check to help buy medical supplies for an impoverished community. Recently, that has looked more like keeping the employees of our business working and paying them fair wages, even when we have to get food from the food bank (and then sharing some food bank food with a friend who had even less than we). My global impact financially may be small right now, but I want to build a lifestyle of giving NOW, so that when abundance comes, giving grows naturally.
Ultimately, I think the cry of Kristen's heart for justice (and so many others who join with her) echoes the cry from the very throne and heart of God. It’s no accident that the question comes down to one thing – the glory of His name. On the surface, the disparate distribution of wealth among the nations appears to be an economic and moral issue, but there’s more to it than simply fairness or generosity. The inability of nations to care for and about one another in a meaningful way on the global level highlights the most desperate need of the human race – a King who is righteous and true, full of love and compassion, who loves to give good gifts and make us righteous and honest and loving and compassionate and all of the things that we simply are not without Him. That’s what the Gospel of the Kingdom is all about – Jesus coming to make wrong things right. And there is something *wrong* with a world where so many live in absolute poverty, and we care so little.