The opinions expressed on this blog are the personal views of Andreas Kjernald and do not reflect the positions of either the UMC congregations in Skien or Hvittingfoss or the UMC Norway.

onsdag 22 mars 2017

Being rich (for once) in Nepal...can a rich person be saved?

Well, of course, but hear me out.

Living in Nepal has brought the rich-poor divide into the open. When I lived in Norway there were plenty of times when I didn't know if I had enough money in my account to pay for the groceries I had just put on the conveyor belt at the supermarket. Here, money isn't an issue. At all. Ever. I make 20 times more money than the average Nepali.

So I have been thinking about something that I realized back in Norway. Jesus said one time that it is "impossible" for the rich to get saved. Something about a camel and sewing equipment. Only with great difficulty can they be saved, presumably because their wealth made their focus remain on money and self-sufficiency.

So is that why rich western (and particularly northern Europeans) don't care about salvation and why the churches (well, those that still try) struggle to preach and reach people with a message of salvation? I mean, by Jesus standards everybody (more or less) is rich nowadays, right? So perhaps we shouldn't be surprised that our fellow Swedes and Norwegians and Danes don't get seek salvation. It's a divinely established truth that it is really hard for a rich person to be saved and since everybody is rich...voilá, we have empty pews. (John Wesley wondered this as well, that when poor people got saved their lives got better through education and vocation which inevitbly led to a lessening of religious fervor). We try something else instead, like gospelchoirs or language classes for immigrants (all good things but not salvific things).

I have never been poor so I should, perhaps, have some insights into this dilemma since I am in fact "saved"...but I don't know. I actually don't think it is about the money. I think it is about self-sufficiency. A rich person believes that he or she can handle life no matter what because that is how I feel when I am here in Nepal. I can handle any problem imaginable with a quick visit to the ATM.  My friends here in Nepal don't have that luxury. The smallest problem is a rally big thing to them, usually a problem with no solution but to "suck it up" and move on.
For them, a salvation free of charge into a life of holiness and love sounds like a pretty good deal...even if it comes with that outdated condition with it that we "discipleship". A following. A giving up of authority and self-rule. To a poor person it makes sense and even feels good to give up self-reliance and self-sufficiency for some grace and salvation and a promise to be taken care of. It can't get much worse, can it?
For a rich person, it sounds "fishy", as if we wonder if it's worth it and if God can do a better job than we can about giving us a good life. I mean, why risk giving up control when control has served us well so far? Self-sufficiency.

The irony is, of course, that it is people who are more like me, who are rich and don't really feel crappy and low and worthless and poor, that are said to be in danger of missing out on the whole thing...even though we rarely struggle with God. We feel like it is the most natural thing in the world that God should love us and forgive us. After all, why not? We/they are not bad people and, without bragging, pretty decent guys and gals.

But we are wrong. It is the poor, and the poor in spirit, that are blessed and who will get the Kingdom of God.
But it doesn't seem like it, does it? Doesn't it seem as if it is the people who have it all together who are more likely to get saved? Doesn't it seem as if the rich are "blessed by God", as we so often tell them?

I wonder.

But if it is true that "poor" is the better way to be if we want to meet God and enter his kingdom, what does that mean in practice? What does it mean for me here in Nepal? When I go back to Norway? I don't know, but I have a feeling that it has to do with an attitude more than my bank account. My bank account can be a hindrance to what I attitude I choose, but I think the big struggle is not how much money I make, or don't make. I think the key is whether we think that we can make the most of this world (and the next) on our own or not. Self-sufficiency.

Perhaps this is something you have already figured out.
Perhaps you always knew that self-sufficiency is the main culprit in why we have empty pews in churches.
Perhaps you alrady figured out that self-sufficiency is why people flock to churches when disasters happen...for once, people realize that they are not self-sufficient...until a few days later when it's all forgotten.

But I think it is a good idea to instill in my head that I am not self-sufficient and that I live in a reality where such ideas are not only delusional but also dangerous. If nothing else, I have little stone idols everywhere to remind me that although those idols themselves are worthless they represent a reality that I for sure can claim to be self-sufficient in. There are more things in the world that what we can handle, all the time, and it is by God's grace that your and my "everyday" go as well as they do.

Blessed are those who know that their spirits are poor and those whose bank accounts don't block their view of our utter dependence upon Jesus Christ, our Sustainer.

2 kommentarer:

Anne sa...

I think you are absolutely right to conclude it has to with attitude. There are devout, rich Christians around - but it's a tough calling, I believe. Perhaps those of us fortunate enough to live perhaps even to have grown up ina society where we can get help with everything have forgotten that we too depend on others. Some of us realize the hard way when circumstances pulls the rock under our feet.
Money like so many other things are neutral: It's our attitude towards it and how we use them, that changes the game. For us.

Anonym sa...

Thanks for your comment, Anne!

I appreciate your thoughts. Yes, it is easy to say that we depend on God for everything we everything is provided for us (or comes easily for us). It is quite another, I would imagine, if nothing came easy.