Friday, June 24, 2016
God Doesn't Owe Me the American Dream
I may have spent half my life on the African continent, but I still have the American dream.
It usually comes to me when I am most frustrated with my life here; when I've just about had it with the heat or the bugs or the roads. That's when my imagination activates, and I picture myself in a quiet American neighborhood, lined with big trees that change with the seasons. I own my own house; everyone speaks my language; my children ride bikes in the street without fear; I can go to the store and actually find what I need. And life is peaceful, and safe, and predictable.
The images flit around my consciousness; I rarely stopped to really think about it. But I recently realized that deep down, I have always assumed that would be my life someday. That somehow, that sort of life should always be the goal.
I may have lived in Africa for 18 years, but I am still very American.
I was astonished to realize that unconsciously, I believed that the American dream is owed to me. That God wants it for me. That because he loves me, therefore I will someday receive the Good Life. Almost as if it's a given. An assumption.
What a lie.
Sometimes I think it's easy for American Christians to see everything tragic that is happening Out There, and make the assumption that God could never let that happen to us. That happens to other people, to other nations. Not to Americans. Not to American Christians. As if we are somehow set apart, special, blessed.
I spent my childhood in Liberia, so I still read updates about Liberia and Ebola. The media has mostly moved on, but Liberia has not. Today I read, "The poverty that made the 2014 epidemic possible appears to have deepened. Although the country has fallen out of the headlines....another outbreak is likely." And this on top of crushing poverty, farms destroyed, and very little way forward. "Come down to the ground and ask the survivors themselves whether they are getting the relief," said [an Ebola survivor], "Life after Ebola is worse than the Ebola virus itself."
I read recently about Venezuela, with country-wide food shortages; thousands of stores with empty shelves, and families waiting in line for hours for rations. And then there's Syria. And Iraq. And North Korea. And countless others.
I know with much certainly that Christians exist in all these countries. Those chosen and loved and saved by God, who desperately seek after him. Yet he allows a pastor to lose his wife and children to Ebola. He allows the Syrian Christian family to be forced to leave their home, their business, their country and become refugees at the complete mercy of others. He allows the North Korean Christian to be turned over to the torture camps by the betrayal of his own son.
And I think: Why do I assume this won't happen to me, to my country? Sure, I know I am not immune from cancer, from accidents, from tragedy. But do I really think that God holds America in a special category; that he won't allow it's destruction, that he won't allow my financial ruin, that he will always ensure my country's safety?
Why do I think that? Why do I assume that he owes me a peaceful American dream-life, when he doesn't grant it to almost any other Christian anywhere in the world?
Americans are optimistic people, and we are goal-oriented. Everything always works out for us, right? We highly value personal peace and prosperity, and we will do almost anything to gain it or keep it. But sometimes, American Christians have taken that American mentality and mixed it in with our Christianity. I absorbed this even though I spent half my life overseas. Yet how can it be true for Americans, and not true for the Christians in Liberia, or Venezuela, or Syria?
I've forced my American dream into my consciousness, cut it apart, and analyzed it with Scripture. God does not owe American Christians anything. He does not owe me a savings account or health insurance. He does not guarantee that my children will have the opportunity to go to college and become prosperous citizens. He does not promise religious freedom, or pleasant vacations, or safety on American streets. He doesn't even promise that America will continue to exist as we know it.
Hey, if God has allowed you a beautiful house on a tree-lined street, 2.5 children, and religious freedom, fantastic. Use it all to his glory. Maybe that will be my life someday too. But it's not an expectation. I'm not going to assume that America, or the government, or God will make my dreams come true. Everything I have already been given (which is a lot), I want to hold with an open hand. My hope is in Christ, my destination is heaven, and nothing in this life is guaranteed. Today I have it; tomorrow I might not. He gives and takes away.
Does that scare you? It scares me. But it shouldn't. If Christians all over the world have put their trust in God when running for their lives, or suffering under an oppressive government, or a disease is ravaging their community, then we can too. Maybe we need to pay better attention to how they do it.