Christianity or the American Dream?

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This week I am pleased to share a guest post from my friend Kayla Hedin, hope you enjoy!

I am an American Christian. Someone who has been told all her life God has great plans for her. While I believe that God has plans for my life, the plans I hear about in church and from my parents often make me squirm. People talk about prospering in a new year, how God wants to bless our finances, how God wants to heal us and keep us safe. And while I believe God loves us more than we can ever truly comprehend, I think we often interpret His love strangely backwards.

It would be disheartening to say that God wants to put us in danger, wants us to suffer, wants us to be sick, or wants us to live in poverty…but I also believe it would be misleading to say that God wants all Christians to be rich, successful, healthy, and safe all the time. In order to disprove the assertions that only good things should come to Christians, all we need to do is look at the lives of Jesus’ disciples, the apostles, and the early church; they did not lead easy lives, and many died as martyrs. Their lives seem to point to a completely different gospel than the one we so often hear about that tells us God’s promises for our success, health, and finances. I believe the problem with the gospel prevalent in churches in America today is that we have twisted Christianity to support the American dream.

We have somehow interwoven the American dream into Christianity. One of the things that makes America great is the supposed equal opportunity to people from all walks of life to succeed. We have been conditioned to believe that this is part of what God wants for our lives—for us to climb the social and executive ladder, to obtain wealth, to have social influence. We justify these beliefs saying that with our success, wealth, and influence, we can bless others and share the love of Christ.

While I believe that God blesses some Christians with prosperity and success so that they can influence and bless others, I do not believe that is the call on every Christian’s life. If all Christians lived easy lives in which they were healthy, prosperous, and successful, would their talk of God’s goodness mean anything to those who are barely surviving? Do they actually have faith? Or is it simply easy for them to believe in God’s goodness because they have been successful on earth? Does God’s goodness depend on our successes or failures? God did not promise us riches and success on earth…He said “blessed are the poor” (Luke 6:20)! We are told not to store up treasures on earth (Matthew 6:19-21). He did not say that we would be accepted and loved by everyone…He said we would be persecuted (John 15:20, 2 Timothy 3:12). He did not say life as a Christian would be easy… He told us that we would face trials (James 1:2).

So with all this in mind, why do we think we are entitled to a blessed life of success and prosperity? Maybe instead of talking about material blessings like job promotions, raises, abundant finances, or a new house or car, we should talk about blessings of eternal impact—the slightest understanding of God’s overwhelming love when we encounter someone deeply hurting and love them even though we do not know them, the reward of seeing a co-worker turn his or her life around after years of you allowing God to speak through you even when it was uncomfortable and seemed futile. Or what about when you give a homeless person a warm drink on a cold day with the knowledge that you are providing for Jesus?

Jesus paints a vivid picture of the judgment day in Matthew 25:34-40. The way he will separate people is by those who fed, clothed, and took care of strangers and those who did not. He says, “Truly I say to you, to the extent that you did it to one of these brothers of mine, even the least of them, you did it to me.” What a powerful message! Taking care of others on earth as though they were Jesus should change us.

The reality is that there are people all around the world living in extreme poverty that many of us have never encountered or experienced. If people living in poverty, dealing with sickness, or being persecuted can proclaim that God is good, why do we often seem to have trouble proclaiming God’s goodness when we do not get that job we so desperately wanted? When we get a bad report from the doctor? When our co-workers ostracize us because we do not participate in their vulgar conversation or because we live differently? The reality is that Christianity is hard; it does not guarantee us an easy and prosperous life, but it causes us to realize that there is more than just this earth. Our life on earth matters because it affects eternity. Are we living for the temporal believing in “promises” of prosperity that are actually contrary to the gospel? Or are we living with a realization of the eternal and the impact that should have on our lives on earth?

I got the general idea of the mixing of Christianity with the American dream from a book by David Platt called Radical. If what I wrote was of any interest to you, I would highly recommend reading this book.

- Kayla