Sunday, November 2, 2014
Getting My Fair Share
I am just starting to read Lawrence Lovasik’s book The Hidden Power of Kindness. I had only read its opening words about love of God and neighbor and a giving of self, when my thoughts turned to opposite feelings: the desires for getting things for myself.
We seem to be witnessing a world in which there is a growing desire to “get things for myself,” often justified by “I deserve it” or “it is my right.” It used to be a problem in our culture when people worked hard and profited by their efforts, that they sometimes thought the fruits received were totally of their efforts, and not a blessing from God. In our culture, pride used to be a worrisome sin; we sometimes thought we were alone in our efforts, even when we knew in our hearts that we were not. And even if we saw God’s hand in our blessings, we often felt they were deserved, rather than a gift, given in His love. We knew these feelings were wrong. Pride was once considered the root of all evils, as witnessed by Lucifer’s revolt against God, and Adam and Eve’s fall from the Garden. But the Christian witness against individual pride has more recently changed to a witness against the new prevailing cultural value of pride: Pride is changing from a vice to a virtue in our society, and where Christians once stood against a bad thing, they now find themselves standing against what is perceived as a good.
The Great Commandment to love God and neighbor has changed in our culture to a command to love yourself. It is taught to our children in schools, where everyone is said to be equal, not matter what they say, do or think, and where (feeding their pride) people are never to be criticized. No one is to ever be considered wrong in what they believe or do; no one may claim he has the truth. There is no God but the individual, no truth but his self-defined truth. And despite what you may privately believe, you and your religion are wrong to publically disagree with someone else’s truth. And from what is taught in our schools grow adults who spread the rule of pride into our laws and culture, and who spread our worldwide message: it is wrong to expect anyone to work to get ahead, no, everyone deserves to be given what he wants. Love of neighbor? No, he must love you first, and give you your fair share. It is the Christian thing for him to do, the culture says.
With my finance background, my mind goes to the economic illogic (and proven impossibility) of communism, the taking from the rich to give to the poor “their fair share.” It doesn’t work; soon there will be no more rich to take from, and all will be poorer than they’ve ever been, and even worse: they won’t have a God to console them. Financially and then emotionally, mandatory sharing leads to disaster.
What I fear, however, is not the financial collapse which arises from acceding to those demanding a fair sharing. No, what I fear is the possible despair of those who today willingly give their fair share, Christians who believe and practice their faith. Who I fear for is the one who kind of acts like the generous giver at Halloween. The word of his generosity quickly spreads: “Hey, he’s giving out big candy bars,” or “He’s giving out dollar bills.” Suddenly the generous person is overwhelmed by way more people than expected at his Halloween door. He doesn’t have sufficient candy or money to meet those asking for “trick or treat,” and worse, he finds those coming to his door are not asking for his candy or money, but demanding it. How does this good Christian react in such a culture? I fear for some, perhaps many, it is to give up, to turn out the porch light and say to the crowd: “I’m done for tonight” --- and perhaps to be done with his generosity for all future Halloween nights also.
When pride and narcissism are virtues in a society, Christians begin to feel not part of that society. They begin to feel and voice their own new set of “rights:” the right to not be taxed excessively, to not be harassed, to not have their religion questioned, and the right to be left alone. And many Christians feel a pressure to “tweak” the commandment to love their neighbor, by seeing it as a rule “to agree” with their neighbor, to join the culture, and to also get their fair share, their share of feeling loved.
But that’s the rub of the matter: You can’t command someone to love you. Love is a gift freely given, not demanded, just as sharing must be. Love can’t be forced by a neighbor or by a government. Christ told us that God loves us freely, and in freedom that is what He asks us to do. He doesn’t force us to love another. That is today’s challenge for Christianity, to continue to give our love freely, to God and neighbor --- and to not want nor expect “my fair share” in return.
It is a great challenge today but I ask you to try to look back, if you can, to the time of Christ. It is no greater challenge today than it was then. The play running on the cultural stage then is the same as now, only the characters have changed. Christ and His apostles are gone; now we are the Christian performers on the stage of our non-Christian culture.
Will we earn applause for our efforts? Will we give up if we don’t receive it? Will we seek converts to our loving efforts? Are we willing to die to ourselves for the truth of our beliefs, to “love without counting the cost?”