I am blessed.
I was born to a family who lived well above the poverty line (at least for most of my life). I was born as a citizen of a nation that gave its citizens freedom, embraced democracy and enjoyed a reasonable and (mostly) fair justice system. My parents brought me up with good educational standards; I was able to finish Year 12 and then attend and graduate from a university that provided a quality education. My family instilled in me values and a sense of moral and spiritual responsibility.
I always had food on the table, clothes on my back (though sometimes they looked like they were made from tablecloths) and a comfortable bed to sleep in that was free of lice, out of the weather and not subject to vermin infestations. If I needed to travel, the family had a car or two. Bus and train services were readily available and cheap. There were great parks to play in, sports teams to which I could belong, and numerous churches, clubs and social groups in the immediate vicinity.
Today I live in a country that has education and outstanding health care available for all at minimal expense. We have a democratically elected government with whom we are free to disagree. I can belong to a trade union, protest injustice without fear of being locked up, and say what I want to say on a diverse array of social media platforms.I am part of a church that has a fantastic building and full of wonderful people who don’t necessarily all think and believe the same way. I enjoy employment in a comfortable setting, with colleagues who are also friends and a decent wage.
I am blessed.
So that means little Mutambo* who lives in a third world country, in a one room shack in a slum with 6 siblings and no parents (because his mum and dad have died of AIDS) — who isn’t so lucky to have been born into such circumstances as I — is . . . what? Cursed?
I don’t get it when people say things like:
“We live in a free country. We are so blessed.” Is that so? So would you say those who live under oppressive regimes don’t enjoy the favour of God?
“Our children attend a wonderful school. We are so blessed.” Right! And the people in the suburb next to yours must have missed out on that gift too.
“We have such a beautiful church building. We are so blessed.” Really? The fact that this church’s members can afford to contribute to such a facility is a sign of God’s blessing?
I am fortunate. It is pure chance that I was born at the time I was born to the family I have in the nation I am and grew up with the opportunities I had. It is not a sign that I did something right, was of the correct religion, race or had a bigger brain. God wasn’t controlling or predesignating these elements in my life and withholding the same from my neighbours. Oppressive governments, disease, lack of opportunity, poverty, and plagues are not God’s doing. They are symptoms that we are all human and don’t always get it right. And Mutambo’s circumstances are really the luck of the draw, not a sign of anything but time, place and ancestry.
I believe those who read the biblical story of Job as a literal, historical narrative do not ‘get it’ on several accounts. Satan is not running around heaven placing bets with God to test mortals. God doesn’t arbitrarily “give and take away” like a schoolyard bully or what we once called being an ‘Indian giver.’ And to blame God for either your good fortune or your poverty concedes that God is a Grand Puppet Master and that you (and I) are controlled by the strings in God’s hands. (Greg Boyd is currently writing a book in this area and I am really looking forward to reading it next year when it comes out. Until then, he has a sermon that gives a taste of what is to follow, ‘Honesty However Ugly,’ on the Woodland Hills Church podcast on iTunes or here.)
I am fortunate. Sure, I have been blessed by God, but no more or less than anyone else on this planet.
But . . .
I have been blessed by good friends, colleagues, teachers, mentors, and people I have never met who have encouraged me to be more than I am now.
I have been blessed along with every human being who has ever lived with the gift of humanity, the freedom to believe that a better world is possible, and the gift of being able to use whatever I have to better the lives of people who, like me, couldn’t choose the circumstances in which they exist.
I have been blessed by parents whose gifts to me included love, health, education, and faith.
I have been blessed. And it would be thinking amiss to believe that these gifts stop with me.
I can bless Mutambo and people like him by working to make his world better. Whether this be through a sponsorship program such as World Vision or SIMAid or more directly by volunteering time and skills through an NGO who is working on projects in his neighbourhood such as the provision of health services, clean water or vocational training. Or my blessing of him could take on the form of working for a more just world in the treatment of refugees and those who are doing all they can to seek and secure a better life for themselves and those they love.
I am responsible to use what I am fortunate to have to build a better world that is characterised by justice, mercy, hope and love.
If I choose to share what I am so fortunate to enjoy, perhaps one day someone like Mutambo can say, ‘I have been blessed by having a friend like Jon who has helped me to have a good education, gave my family healthy food and clean water, and gave my village hope that we can live in a better world than we inherited from our ancestors.’
Or maybe he’ll just say, ‘I am blessed to have been given hope.’
And I am convinced that hope is the best blessing we can give.
*’Mutambo’ is a fictional character meant as a representation of the millions of children who are in very similar circumstance around the world today.