In America it is easy to take our advantages for granted. We have worked hard, we have invested our abilities and taken advantage of the opportunity to build our dreams. Therefore, it may seem, the fruits of our labor are an entitlement and not a gift, right?
Well, yes and no…
If we had stayed in bed all day waiting for prosperity to happen we would likely be impoverished and therefore our will to get out of bed is a big part of our success. However, was it by your own will that you were born with two good legs and are even able to contemplate getting out of bed?
If we are entitled to what we produce by will, but did not produce our legs by will, then who or what do we credit for what our legs helped us produce? I suppose we could start by thanking our parents, we could be grateful to them for the transmittal of the genetic material that produced our legs and giving them credit for our success.
Then the fact you are able to read this, we can thank are parents and teachers who taught us language. But, even if they seem older than the hills, they didn’t invent language and nor did the generation before them. So can we take credit for the ideas we gained through written or spoken language?
Our lives are inexorably intertwined and interconnected like the very internet on which you read this. The inventors mostly unknown, the contributions of many virtually forgotten and the whole maintained by a nameless mass of humanity, yet we do benefit or we would not use it.
So who or what deserves credit for our success?
We prosper to the extent that we do by ‘standing on the shoulders of giants’ and our own efforts amplified by these gifts providence has bestowed upon us. We cannot take for granted the privilege of a stable economic system and opportunities that even a grade school education provided for us.
If you travel to Haiti the contrast is clear. In a place where government is especially corrupt and available resources few, even the most industrious person will have a difficult time getting ahead. Oftentimes their best chance is by escaping to a better environment, yet that is not an option for all and some are stuck doing what they can to earn a meager wage.
Our success is a result of both collective and individual efforts. Therefore, we all together (personally and all contributors to our lives big or small) deserve all, partial and no credit. As a web of intersecting circular chains of causality of shared responsibility, deciding who actually deserves credit is actually a true paradox. This paradox of our own will within determinism is something I chalk up to Providence.
We are created by the dust of stars…
In nature brutal violence and exploitation is normal. A gazelle in Africa does not consider the rights of the living plants it consumes to be sacred nor does a lion that takes down a gazelle for its’ meat seem to agonize about the decision. I doubt many would consider incarceration of a lions that killed a gazelle a moral necessity.
The recorded history of thousands of years of human history show a similar disregard for the life of those in the tribe across the river. The idea of conquest or taking what you could in raids (that including enslaving members of the other tribe to labor or be concubines) was very common behavior and only very recently has become widely regarded as a morally repugnant thing. It was kill or be killed.
From a logical, reasonable and collectively minded standpoint survival of the fittest is an obvious choice. With the advent of modern science the idea that imbecile parents produce imbecile children, concerns about overpopulation and idea of gene selection became a basis for eugenics. So from whence doth this ethic of protecting the weak or nonproductive person come from?
I think it is empathy. The idea, contained in the proverb “there but for the grace of God go I” and a thought that we are fortunate for what we have been given, is that we should give to those with less because we would want to be helped. It may be against nature and impractical thinking, but it is evidence that we can think beyond a materialistic perspective. We see each other as spiritual beings with value just for our own existing.
I believe it is spiritual progress, awakening to more full awareness and transcending nature itself that drives our generosity. We recognize our own success is not a simple matter of our own individual responsibility, choice and effort. We realize we are not a product of any one person, institution or entity in this universe. We are created from star dust, we suddenly have become awake to a reality that we somehow know is unfair and unbroken.
So where does this leave us and where do we go from there?
I turn to God. I believe to acknowledge God is to humbly admit we cannot take credit for creating ourselves, that we cannot find answers for our existing in ourselves alone and we want to live out an ideal beyond ourselves.
Jesus prayed: “Thy kingdom co me on earth as it is in heaven,” which is literally asking for heaven on earth, and ultimately what faith is supposed to be about. With this my prayer, I cannot be content to hoard what gifts I have been given for myself only, my family only or my own people only. If I pray for heaven, I must be willing to create heaven and by that I must be willing to sacrifice myself to see this reality in my own life.
Love for God in the Christian Bible is always defined as giving of our abundance to those in need and commitment to self-sacrificial living. It is a message to each of us personally to do our part in bringing the ‘good news’ to the world of God’s love for humanity. It can be misconstrued as religion, as a guilt trip, as a means to judge others, and a tool of oppression, but the true calling of Jesus is for us to give what we have to give. Rich or poor, male or female, American or other, we all have something to give other and, in our giving to each other, giving to God.
God has given us the ability to create a better world and many squander the opportunity by their immorality, their selfishness, greed, envy, etc. But faith is acting despite what others do, faith is the only way we will fearlessly lead in bringing heaven to earth and faith is what is required of us. It is our job, as people of faith, to be the healing hands, the feet ready to carry a load for those struggling and the loving voice. With faith we can be the hands, feet and voice of God.
I am not talking about strictly charity either. In fact, I think most of our giving is by our careers, our talents and time. And, I will go further to say that there is nothing bad about profiting from your efforts, receiving without guilt and enjoying life. However, I would caution against an entitled attitude that fails to recognize all you have been given that amplifies your own willing effort. The investments of the blood, sweat and tears of many is what has made the American lifestyle possible.
“From everyone who has been given much, much will be demanded; and from the one who has been entrusted with much, much more will be asked.” (Luke 12:48b)
Those who think their security, prosperity and confidence is something they earned—rather than a gift from God—have no need to help those who are without and assume those without have done something to deserve being without. However, those who know their affirmation and acceptance is only by the grace of God, who understand the very opportunities they have were by divine providence, they will give to those in need with a humble heart. An ungiving person is an ungrateful person.
So, why do we give gifts on Christmas?
We give because, the Christ child, Jesus was given as a gift by God and we are grateful. To those of Christian faith, Jesus is the living symbol of God’s ideal, his life the ultimate example and his laying down of his own life so we could know how to live the ultimate hope of humanity. Our giving on the holiday is symbolic of the gift of the grace of God.
“Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” (John 15:13)
To give as much as we have been given is our expression of fullness of gratitude and that is our reasonable service to God. If everyone had will to give their all then nobody would be without and in need. Be a friend to all people of all nations, give your all and bring heaven to earth for someone this holiday besides you or your own kin.
Merry Christmas and God bless!