Are those that drive luxury cars more blessed than those that rely on public transport? Are the rich better Christians than the poor? And should the rich feel guilty for having more than those on the breadline? Lawrence Ndlovu looks at the definition of “blessedness” and the problematic version of prosperity that is only manifest through the collecting of possessions and wealth.
The notion of equating personal wealth with blessing is on the surface not unreasonable. Inherent in this way of thinking is the acknowledgment that all things good are from God and that it is God and God alone that the human person depends on completely. Many people subscribe to this view and it is for this reason that there is always a sense of thankfulness for all things and the most overt manifestation of this gratefulness is found in the prayers we say at mealtime. There is, however, a problematic use of the notion of being blessed which suggests that God’s favour leans more towards some people to the discrimination of others.
It must be remembered that the disparities that we see in the world today (especially those between the rich and the poor) are by no means a creation of God. God has created all people and made them equal. God has created the earth in which these equal persons may have a home. It was not God who gave the riches of the world to some and not to others. The gaps, especially of wealth and land, are a creation or the result of human beings best and worst virtues. There are those who, out of no fault of their own, have found themselves needing. These people could be descendants of those who were robbed of their land through colonisation and other acts of criminality. They could also be people who have not taken interest in finding work and making other such means to survive.
And while the poor might not have chosen their economic status, there those who have amassed great wealth through their own hard work and innovations. Those should always be celebrated because they are reaping the rewards of their hard work. Further to this, there are also those who have made their wealth through questionable means. This latter group of people display for us why the equating of wealth with blessedness is so problematic.
The notion of being blessed needs to rescued from its uncomfortable marriage with material. If we really apply our minds to this way of thinking we discover that there is also something else that we are saying about those who are not wealthy or those who do not have any personal belongings – that they are not blessed because they do not have.
This is precisely the problem with the many prosperity preachers that are found all over the world. They selectively choose a version of prosperity and blessedness that is only manifest through the collecting of possessions and wealth. However the scriptures themselves, especially ‘The Beatitudes,’ speak about blessedness as a state of being and not necessarily as an empirical state. The state of blessedness is one that is found in being of close proximity with the teachings and the things of God. It is a state that is accessible for all people rich and poor alike.
This way of understanding blessedness is not a ticket of consolation for the poor or a tool to be used by the rich in their attempts to show how all people are blessed. It does not and should not take away the responsibilities that we have to ourselves and each other. The responsibilities we have to each other display the fundamental humanness that is the building block of every person, most especially a Christian. Those who have collected enough wealth – to keep themselves and their children from needing – have an obligation to those who do not have. This does not mean that they should be ashamed or be made to feel guilty for their wealth. There is no harm in enjoying one’s wealth.
However excessive and frivolous spending while being completely indifferent to the struggling of those around you including those who work for you and with you only serves to display one’s personal resignation from the shared condition of humanness. No real human being, especially one that knows that all people are created by God and are therefore endowed with dignity, could be blind to the suffering of others and in the process contaminate his own God-given dignity.
The question of personal wealth has become a very topical issue especially because of the many accounts of fraud and corruption and the movement of money into tax free havens. The treatment of money and wealth, even when doing something as responsible as investing, should always be precipitated by an understanding of service and blessedness. We invest because we are aware that there is a future that has to be prepared for and that those that we love and those who are in our employ and care should never suffer even if we are no longer around.
I want to believe that a Catholic understanding of wealth is that wealth is an opportunity to maximise one’s apostolate. Wealth is a tool at our disposal not us as tools for wealth. Those who are wealthy have a very special opportunity to empower at least one other person in the most tangible manner. Empowerment is not about the creation of dependency where one is perpetually celebrated, it is about making sure that another person is lifted out of their needing. It is for this reason that when taxes are evaded or when there is a manifestation of excessive spending for the sake of spending (even if the money is yours) then it is clear that there is also a crisis of faith. SA.