It continues to amaze me how we - the overly religious - proclaim God's grace from the mountain tops, yet undermine it at every turn of our lives. We do such a good job of being pharisaical. We attribute misfortune, pain, and one's station in life to sin (at least if those things happen to poor people), while attributing our comfort and wealth to our own good works. God's grace rarely needs to enter the equation for us. Forget all the anecdotal and historical examples we have of the wealthy who are horrendous sinners, and the impoverished who are the greatest of saints - and forget the warnings of Jesus against the rich and his uplifting of the poor. We know that we are wiser than God and better discerners of reality than Jesus, and we know that our wealth and comfort are signs of our earned favor with God, meaning that most of the destitute have done something to fall out of favor with him.
When you live out this warped theological view, you end up with a church that looks like our American church. While the poor are grilled about their lives and prior decisions before receiving even a pittance from the church - ensuring they deserve our approbation and assistance - the wealthy are never asked to prove their deserving accolades, praise, or leadership positions by handing over their budgets and proving they aren't greedy. While the poor are assumed to be undeserving and likely living in sin and a life of unwise choices, the rich are given the benefit of the doubt as to their merit and godliness without ever having to prove otherwise, since the sins of the rich are deemed subjective and off-limits to questioning. Yet we fail to recognize that while a life of absolute destitution may be indicative of certain vices, or at least increase their likelihood, so it is with the lives of the wealthy and comfortable. How many warnings does the Bible, and Jesus himself, need to give us about wealth to clue us into this concept? How can we hear the words of a God who almost always uplifts the poor and frequently warns the rich, and then go about inverting our suspicions and critiques? If the poor have an issue with bad stewardship because they have too little, biblically speaking, the wealthy likely have a bad stewardship issue for having too much. The world is God's, and if we've collected more manna for ourselves than needed, or if we have two coats while our brother or sister has none, then we're wicked stewards. I think all of us probably fit that bill.
Part of our problem is that we are a culture of despair. I know we don't think that describes us, but Walter Brueggemann makes an observation that I think fits us very well. Brueggemann says that the opposite of hope is despair, which I think we'd all agree with. But Brueggeman also says that whereas hope produces generosity, greed is a product of despair. When we believe we live in a world of scarcity in which we cannot or will not be provided for, it drives us to be greedy and to horde, which are indicative of our loss of hope. Why don't we keep the Sabbath rest as an eternal ordinance of blessing, which Jesus himself identified as a good gift from God? Why do we horde resources? Why do we have such difficulty giving our money away? Why are we gluttons? Why are we overly comfortable and unconcerned about the poor and needy? Why have we turned our pet sins into sins of subjectivity that we can either ignore or excuse ourselves from? I think it's because we are living lives of despair, worried that God's world is a world of scarcity, and that God's benevolence and generosity is like ours - shallow and lacking.
I wonder what our world would look like in the U.S. if we, the church, were to get our hope back and live lives which reflected that hope. Not only would our generosity increase and our communities be transformed, but such a thing would only occur because our hearts would be transformed and properly oriented. We would live as though we really believed our lives were a gift of a gracious, loving, and generous God. We would begin pulling the logs out of our own eyes and culling our lives and churches of the sins which are actually running amok - sins like greed, gluttony, and a lack of justice. And if Evangelicals who are 20% of the United States population were to live rightly before God and humanity, maybe our warmongering empire of a nation would gain some hope, and in so doing, begin to do justice. For as the church has long declared, it is usually our despair of resources as seen in jealousy and greed, that wars are waged. Our despair is killing us, killing those around us, and exploiting the most vulnerable. We have horded bushels and bushels of goods as we store up our treasures here on earth, but in so doing, we have placed a bushel over our light.