Thursday, March 01, 2007

Time for a Quiz

Just tossing this out for you... a fun fact I stumbled across in a book I was reading.

Please name the country whose people had the world's highest standard of living in the year 1776.

OK, you've waited long enough. I'm not sure what I would have guessed if the question had been posed to me in that form. I ran into this fact in David McCullough's book, 1776, right out of the blue. I suppose I would have guess England, since back in those days, the Brits were the biggest superpower in the world. France would have been a second choice. I'm not sure any other country would have even popped into my mind, let alone the correct answer.

So do you know the right answer yet? The country whose peopole had the highest standard of living in the year 1776 was the world's youngest country. That's right. The United States of America. Before the ink was even dry on the Declaration of Independence, the former colonists were better off than any other country on earth.

McCullough noted that as British soldiers came upon cities and villages abandoned in the wake of Revolutionary War battles, they were astounded at the luxuries the Americans had accumulated. He pointed out that the fact that the rebels were so well off, that the redcoats considered them crazy for declaring independence from the king who allowed them to get this rich. They had a pretty good point.

Personally, I think this blows a lot of so-called patriotic thinking out of the water. I've heard so often that God has blessed America because of our religious foundations or that we have championed the cause of justice and helping the poor. As it turns out, Americans were rich before there even was an America, per se.

Too often we have this bizarre idea that God's Seal of Approval is the awarding of riches. Rich people must be more loved by God, right? He wouldn't let his favorites wallow in poverty, would he? Any good scan of Scripture would poke holes in that theory. Sure, God can boost the bank accounts of people as a blessing, but that's not the only way He blesses. Riches equal responsibility. And, yes, there are many people who cannot handle too many responsibilities.

Remember Solomon? Richest guy for miles. Wives and concubines out the ying-yang (if that's physically possible). What did all his wealth do for him? It brought him down. What was it Jesus said about the odds of a rich man entering heaven? Something about camels strolling through small sewing devices, right?

Not that I'm against wealth. I'm against the boastful attitude that wealth somehow is equated with goodness. I'm defiant against the "God has blessed the USA because we're so stinkin' religious" mindset.

Paul berated the Corinthians for taking on the values of the world. Has America done the same thing? Has the American Church emphasized the seeking of blessings to validate a materialistic lifestyle? Are our hearts bursting with pride as we sing the Star Spangled Banner, thinking that God's blessings have proven that the Founding Fathers surely must have been almost-flawless Christian thinkers?

It seems to me that Americans have been blessed and challenged since before 1776. It's not that we're so great in our governmental style or our general religiousity, it's that we've had more opportunity to accumulate materials. We need to come back to the point where we, as Paul said, know nothing but Christ and Him crucified.

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julie said...

"Has the American Church emphasized the seeking of blessings to validate a materialistic lifestyle?"

I'm afraid so.

Steve Dennie said...

Very nicely done, Ed. Of course, you're writing from the smugly rich suburbs of Convoy, Ohio....

Mrs. Meg Logan said...

Wow, haven't been here in a while but I have got to say I totally disagree with the idea that we cannot see who the Lord has blessed based on how well they are living.

(I must also qualify this statement by saying, some wicked people are rich which we know from Proverbs, and also that I agree that money is not the only form of blessing, there are many oft overlooked blessings such as children...)

However that said, the Lord promised in Deuteronomy 28 that if we keep His commandments (and this was written to a nation.) He will bless the fruit of the land. He will make them lenders not borrowers, He will bless them in their storehouses and the fruit of their wombs. I think we can plainly state that countries which are founded on Judeo/Christian faith are much better off in generally not just riches.

Those countries which were historically Christian have had more by way of food, more by way of ideas/ingenuity and more by way of money. Only one area would I say doesn't seem to line up is that third world countries tend these days to have more children. (But this is, in my mind, because the culture in the US etc, is changing from Judeo/Christian to pagan/secular and the blessing of children is considered a curse.)

Do I think that this blessing can be removed? ABSOLUTELY. In a heart beat the Lord could remove His protection from the US and other Christian countries. France is rapidly becoming an Islamic state, and I don't think we will continue to see them with the blessings they have come to be used to.

I think it is a bad idea to stop seeing God's hand in the actions and blessings on nations. The Lord is still sovereign and He still blesses and curses. He says that a blessed nation will bring fear to their enemies, because they will see how God has blessed.

I wrote a post about some of the blessings of God found in Deuteronomy 28. Come read it.


rev-ed said...

Sorry, Meg, but I just can't go along with you, mostly because of the exceptions you yourself listed.

Job is one of my favorite books because it sounds so modern to my ears. Both Job and his friends notice that there are far too many evil people who prosper. It's an old dilemma. Each generation has more than its fair share of Ted Turners and Donald Trumps. Each generation has more than it's fair share of the pious poor.

I think Deuteronomy 28 sees blessings on a nationalistic level, specific for Israel. Sure, there are some general truisms there, but they don't logically become absolutes. Like Proverbs, that passage can be generally true, but plenty of exceptions can be found. You used the word "generally", and I think even that may be generous.

I know "rich" people (for this area, anyway) who truly know and walk with Christ. I also know people who are losing homes and having utilities shut off who truly know and walk with Christ. Each one of these is truly blessed. It's just that too many of us look at the checkbook and the lifestyle as the only sign of blessing. To me, the one who is truly blessed is the one who leans upon the Lord in all situations. That person knows no specific social situation. That person may or may not have children. That person may be sickly or extremely healthy. It's knowing the Lord that is the true blessing.

R. Stewart said...

Hi Ed - as usual, great stuff. Almost makes me want to take up the blogging hobby again, just to link to it:)

God can bless people with wealth, but I don't see that as His primary means of motivation. His greater concern is that we store up "treasure" in Heaven, not here. Anyone blessed here needs to use those blessings to further the Kingdom, not feather our nests. To whom much is given, much is required.

God bless,

Weekend Fisher said...

Long time no see.
Hope everything's ok.

A Human Bean said...

The whole concept of being riches being a sign of blessing is still being "preached" by the name it, claim it crowd. It is definitely outside God's Word. I think the life of Jesus about says it all. If being rich was actually a sign of God's blessing than we should all be praising the Pharisees and Sadducees.

However, I don't know that we can say this about most of the modern day church. While I think there are significant problems in much of modern Christianity, I don't think prosperity teaching is that big a deal. It does play in some very large churches (Potter's House, Lakewood Church), but it does not play in many others (Saddleback, Willowcreek).

I do think the heart of the American church is largely off base. We do a miserable job of seeking justice, helping the poor, etc. (of course, there are notable exceptions). However, this is a topic for another time.

Kim from Hiraeth said...

Thank you for making me think! I've given you a Thinking Blogger Award. (and a small chastisement)

You can find it here:

Carol said...

I'd certainly hate to think He blessed America with the specific purpose of making an example of her. Because she seems to be setting herself up for that very thing.

Interesting points, Ed!

rev-ed said...

BTW, thanks Kim! I'm honored. I may even try to step up the posting rate around here... ;)