This really got me to thinking. When the argument put forth in this article is set on the Biblical backdrop of God’s meticulous sovereignty over our lives as opposed to ‘chance’ or ‘luck’ (which does not exist) as asserted in the article; and when this argument is set on the backdrop of what man truly deserves for his rebellion against God (eternal conscious torment, not anything good, let alone wealth), I think James Kwak is certainly right in terms of people receiving a certain lot in life outside of their control, but it is owing purely to God’s good sovereign pleasure, not chance or luck. For who makes men to differ from others? Themselves or the grace of God or chance? “What have you that you did not receive?” (1 Cor. 4:7) “But by the grace of God I am what I am” (1 Cor. 15:10). All that we have has been given, as a gift.
When people are born with a silver spoon in their mouth, or as Tommy Nelson has said, when those obnoxious kids who are born on third base (in socio-economic terms) act as if they hit a triple … does this mean they are entitled to what they possess, that they deserve it? Presupposing the Scriptural assessment, all mankind is owed wrath because of our rebellion against our Creator (Genesis 3, Romans 3:23, Romans 6:23). No one, no matter how hard they work or how smart they are, is ever owed riches, and especially not salvation. We are owed judgment and if we really understood God in His justice (as Abraham, Moses, Isaiah, Job, Paul, James, John did, just for example), we would see what a wonder it is that He is merciful to any of us at all and stand in awe and amazement that He is merciful to literally multitudes upon multitudes of people from all over the world from all of history. No one is ever owed mercy, and no one will be standing before the Great White throne of Christ and say “You owe me salvation Jesus. Look at what I did!” Our mouths will be shut in silence before His throne as He judges mankind and those who Christ saved will be delivered, not because of their goodness but because of His. He is in the right and we are not.
This eternal, cosmic, theological backdrop that Scripture paints, from beginning to end, translates into the worldview of believers, and as it pertains to this discussion, into our financial lives. Are we owed riches, even if we’ve worked really hard for them or studied hours upon hours to make extra money? Are we owed anything really when we understand what we truly deserve? This should create great humility and contentment at what God has granted us, whatever the situation. Unfortunately, we don’t see that contentment all too often on the conservative Christian side of things.
Now, I do want to emphasize that I don’t think this is a good argument in this article for the forced redistribution of wealth at a legal level, imposed upon a society by the government. “Unintended consequences” would be the one phrase I would employ that sums up what I believe would happen. I would argue such a system will create moral hazards of a different kind, both with individuals and organizations, as well as the government.
But I certainly differ with my self-righteous Christian conservative counterparts who many times seem to act as if they are owed their wealth simply because they were born in a good family (presumably in Texas :] ) that taught a solid work ethic, had enough money for a good education, and then happened to have the right opportunities at the right times in order for them to prosper. Are all of these factors owed to a persons’ abilities and talents and their supposed omnipotent power to pull themselves up by their own bootstraps? Certainly not. God’s common grace is what makes men to differ from others in socio-economic status, working through means to be sure, but ultimate authority in these matter lays with God alone.
I do believe Kwak is right in his moral argument in this article, that is, helping others in need who don’t have what we have, who are less fortunate, just as Christ compassionately, and with great humility, entered human society to give His people what He had from all eternity with the Father, namely eternal life in Himself, and all at great cost to Himself. “For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you by his poverty might become rich.” (2 Cor. 8:9) Paul says this in the context of explaining to the Corinthian church why it is they should be giving generously for the sake of others who are less fortunate (2 Cor. 2:1-15):
“1We want you to know, brothers, about the grace of God that has been given among the churches of Macedonia, 2for in a severe test of affliction, their abundance of joy and their extreme poverty have overflowed in a wealth of generosity on their part. 3For they gave according to their means, as I can testify, and beyond their means, of their own accord, 4begging us earnestly for the favor of taking part in the relief of the saints— 5and this, not as we expected, but they gave themselves first to the Lord and then by the will of God to us. 6Accordingly, we urged Titus that as he had started, so he should complete among you this act of grace. 7But as you excel in everything—in faith, in speech, in knowledge, in all earnestness, and in our love for you— see that you excel in this act of grace also.
8I say this not as a command, but to prove by the earnestness of others that your love also is genuine. 9For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you by his poverty might become rich. 10And in this matter I give my judgment: this benefits you, who a year ago started not only to do this work but also to desire to do it. 11So now finish doing it as well, so that your readiness in desiring it may be matched by your completing it out of what you have. 12For if the readiness is there, it is acceptable according to what a person has, not according to what he does not have. 13For I do not mean that others should be eased and you burdened, but that as a matter of fairness 14your abundance at the present time should supply their need, so that their abundance may supply your need, that there may be fairness. 15As it is written, “Whoever gathered much had nothing left over, and whoever gathered little had no lack.”
The Macedonian church had exploded in generosity, overflowing with the contentment and joy God has give us in the Gospel. The key to convincing each other in the church (and those in society) to be pouring out to others in the community and within the church is not through compulsion or government mandate or fear or any other forced mechanism, for that doesn’t get at the heart of the problem. Those things work as a restraint on bad behavior and force people’s hand to give, but don’t change the motive or willingness to do it on their own volition.
The key to getting at the heart is the Gospel. When we truly see that Christ gave up His wealth so that through faith in Him and rest in His work, we could possess His riches, it strikes us at the deepest level of our being and we cannot help but give of ourselves in various forms. When we see that Christ substituted himself on the cross to absorb the wrath of God, in order that what we deserve would be assuaged and we ourselves given His perfect record, we are changed from the inside out. Christ died the death we should die so that we can have eternal life. That is astonishingly good news that necessarily has an effect on a persons’ life. The Gospel is our motivation, not so much as an example, but as real, true power to do what’s right in terms of giving. I am still working this out in my own life and pray the Lord would make me a more generous person through the power of the Gospel, applied by the Holy Spirit.
As an aside: you just have to laugh when people use the term ‘Calvinist’ in a category that has nothing to do with theology 🙂 In defense of Yves’ statement (cited in the article), I think she was trying to convey the idea of someone with a strict, Pharisaical-style ‘Protestant work ethic’ that is self-righteous and who believes to be owed what they have, not a ‘Calvinist’ in the theological sense per se, similar to the way Clinton used the term not too long ago, minus the Pharisaical aspect of course: