I remember going on youth group trips in the 1990’s with my friends from church, and reflecting with them on how happy those living in abject poverty seemed to be. It was so far outside of my understanding of wealth and happiness that people could have less than me but be happier than me. I am still confounded at the lack of correlation between affluence and joy. It seems to me that Jesus knew what he was talking about:
“One thing you still lack; sell all that you possess and distribute it to the poor, and you shall have treasure in heaven; and come, follow Me.” But when he had heard these things, he became very sad, for he was extremely rich. And Jesus looked at him and said, “How hard it is for those who are wealthy to enter the kingdom of God! For it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God.” Luke 18:26-27
This is straight-forward hyperbole, by the way. I’ve heard it preached other ways, but I don’t think you can come to any other conclusion. It takes divine intervention for a rich person to enter the Kingdom of God, as Jesus goes on to say, “The things that are impossible with people are possible with God.”
Can you be happy and be rich? Yes. Can you be happy and be poor? Yes. Can you be miserable / happy / dance at one end of the extreme or the other, or somewhere in between? I don’t care to go through all of the scenarios. Here is the reality: Our global materialism (America’s ways have spread across the globe to our brothers in China, India, and beyond) is akin to a giant open-air liquor store for alcoholics. The level of materialism that we are living in is like a 24/7 orgy in the streets, in our homes, and everywhere we look all days of the year. The abuse of Christmas, as just a singular example of the abuse, exploitation, and absurd extent to which we have collectively taken our worship of things. This materialism is heroine-addiction level – this addiction to things has permeated every aspect of our society, from media, politics, religion, culture, to our everyday language and conversation. We can’t function without our drug of choice. Our identity is in things. Our very hope, our emotional affect rises and falls with the stock market, our personal financial statements, our job status, the creases in our shoes. We are so addicted to profitization that we can’t come up with solutions to our universally shared problems without subordinating them to the priority of our material needs. If you are not a profitable, rent-paying demographic, then you will not be cared for in our world.
God might want you to have less. Imagine that his loving desire for you might mean that your good God wants you to be freed from the extra stuff you have. It might be good if you lose your job and your house. That’s a real thing. It might be a “blessing,” a word which has been co-opted in our culture strictly to mean “having more,” to have a reduced socioeconomic status, less property, less material means. Why is this even a possibility? Because God doesn’t love your things, your house, your cars, your business, your equity, he loves you. And those things so often get in the way of our ability to connect with him, and also with each other. Understand that when you are rich, you literally, figuratively, and practically do not need. You don’t need anything, let alone other people. When you get to a base-level, middle-class type of affluence, you are independent. This is a “win” in our culture and it is clearly defined as a “loss” in scripture. The value of independence is not a biblical one, not by any stretch of the imagination, but that it is considered one in American Christianity is another example of our we worship ourselves and worship things.
If you are ever given the opportunity, consider it a blessing that you need other people so that you can survive. Praise God for it. Break away from the lie of the enemy that you are a strong, self-made individual, and embrace community and God. Have your needs met by him and the other people he has given you. Praise God for the humility you will learn when you connect with people in that way. Let that pride die, as painful as it will be, because that pride is what’s keeping you in this materialistic hell.