Many are the times in my life that I have heard a countryman express thanksgiving for the privilege of living “in the greatest country the world has ever known.” There is surely some truth to this assertion – no previous society has been as productive or made the advancements in human existence as America. Yet, as is the case of every great civilization before ours, the future will take care of that heady arrogance.
I am rather struck by a different observation of our providential lot. That is, the curses we suffer because of where we find ourselves living. Not to put too fine a point on the matter, but living in America in the early years of the 21st century may be the best human experience one could hope for, but from a spiritual standpoint there is another side to the story.
We are cursed to have never known real need. You might think that’s a blessing, but from a spiritual perspective the only way we can begin to understand how destitute we are before God is by contemplating our helplessness in the spiritual realm. We can do nothing – absolutely nothing – to rescue ourselves spiritually. We are under a penalty of death (Romans 3:23, 6:23), due to our own misbehavior, and we cannot afford the penalty. That requires our life (Hebrews 9:22), and we only have one. This quandary forces a decision: how will we live? What God wants is for us to see our true spiritual condition. Jesus remarked that those who are poor in spirit are blessed. Such people understand their real need.
We are cursed by a bounty of blessings. Even a cursory glance at history suggests that there is truth in the notion that no other civilization has ever experienced the glut of material and personal satisfaction that ours has. Most wear it as a badge of honor. But it doesn’t take an advanced degree in social science to understand the serious implications. The foundation of any civilization – the properly functioning family – is rotting beneath us. The emphasis in the home is not on respectful and responsible behavior; rather it is on the constant pursuit of the next pleasure, no matter the expense. Satan has deluded us into believing that the experiencing of things that “are not sinful of themselves” doesn’t have some serious consequences when we overindulge to the point of pushing God out of our lives. We grin and continue to enjoy our “wholesome” activities, struggling to find 15 minutes a day to spend in prayer, or reading, or service to our fellow man.
We are cursed to have come to believe that we don’t need God. This is the real devastation of our successful civilization. The goals we set make it clear: our “new clothes” (like the emperor’s) are a figment of our imagination. We work harder and longer than our predecessors, worry and fret until we ruin our health, and teach our progeny by such an example that financial security, lavish dwellings, constant entertainment, technological toys, and self-indulgent enjoyment are the keys to a happy life. Here’s the unspoken, soul-crushing message we pass along: We have the capability within ourselves to earn those things in life that are rewarding, and so we don’t really need God to be happy.
The apostle Paul wrote in Philippians 3 about emptying himself as a prerequisite to being a useful servant to God…
But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ. – Philippians 3.7-8
Knowing Christ Jesus: the only goal in human existence worth pursuing. Paul learned that lesson through a life of difficult circumstances. God showed Paul through a tumultuous existence that nothing he had was worth anything. And Paul felt blessed, because he gained what was of real importance. How do we gain that same appreciation? A clearer view of what our blessings really are, less reliance on those of a temporal nature, a recognition that the blessings we are given are for use in serving others and glorifying God, and a prayerful approach to God that understands that what man considers a curse, God may consider the ultimate gain.
May grace reign in your life through righteousness.
– Bo Couchman