Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Why I Hate the American Dream

The short answer:

The pursuit of the American Dream is in competition with the pursuit of Jesus.

Long answer:

When you boil it down the American Dream is the pursuit of security and comfort for yourself and your family. You attain these goals by means of the accumulation of wealth. So, the plan is to get a good job and advance sufficiently in your career. As you do this you’ll gain a measure of wealth that is to be used for security, that is, a cash reserve in the bank, a house in a nice enough part of town and that sort of thing. There also needs to be enough wealth so that you can enjoy a measure of comfort, things like a nice [read: expensive] vacation somewhere each year, electronic toys, nice clothes. And there needs to be enough wealth so that the children can be started on the same route to security and comfort: an education that will lead to the right kind of job which will create a suitable measure of wealth. And the cycle repeats itself.

In contrast, consider what it means when Jesus says, ‘Follow Me’. Quite apart from the mystical element involved, it means living as He lived when He was here. It’s about imitation. Do the words ‘security’ and ‘comfort’ describe His life? Let me suggest better words: ‘risk’ and ‘suffering’. To follow Jesus is to take risks. Abraham risked everything important to him when he took Isaac to Mt. Moriah. Mary took a huge risk when she, as yet unmarried, submitted to the angel’s message that she would give birth to the Son of God. And Peter got it right when he told the Council, ‘We must obey God rather than men’, for which he and the others risked (and earned) a flogging. These all obeyed their Lord and in so doing exposed themselves to risk. Is it possible to follow Jesus without any risk? Jesus’ response to the scribe sufficiently deals with the issue of comfort. ‘Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.’

Jesus described the likelihood of being able to pursue the American Dream and to pursue Him when He said, ‘No one can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money.’ And yet, some still try.

What is ironic is that the American Dream, promises notwithstanding, will never be able to provide security and comfort – but Jesus will. Who is more safe and secure than a disciple of Jesus? ‘You will be hated by all for my name's sake. But not a hair of your head will perish.’ And once this preface to God’s story is finished and all are raised from the grave to live for all eternity either in heaven or hell, who will enjoy the greatest comfort? Even now, faithful disciples enjoy the comfort of the Gospel that goes further and deeper than any American ‘comfort’.

The solution is not for us all to divest ourselves of any kind of wealth – though, as with the rich, young ruler, there are some who need to do exactly that. Godly behavior finds its roots in a heart that has been changed from rebellion to submission. The solution is for American Christians to get into the habit of saying, ‘Whatever You want, Lord, is fine with me.’ Jesus will call some to accumulate wealth. Remember that Abraham was incredibly rich. Bear in mind that, especially in these evil days, that is a very difficult calling for any faithful disciple. But He will also call some to be incredibly poor, something that has its own challenges. And the rest of us will be called to live somewhere in between those two poles. But for all of us the key is a heart that is willing to risk and to suffer whatever – at Jesus’ command and for His sake. We do that with joy because it is Jesus whom we are serving in this way, and we do that in the confident hope of an amazing eternity that He has promised.

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