Which is more blessed: poverty or plenty? (Some thoughts on wealth, faith, and the feelings that go with that)

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Gilted Guilt.

I’ve been wondering about this recently: the feelings of guilt that—for me and many other Christians—seem to attend the having of things and money.

There’s a Scriptural basis for the call to financial simplicity:  ‘The Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head’, said Jesus, and ‘Blessed are the poor in spirit’. ‘The love of the money is the root of all kinds of evil’, warned Paul. And I hear it around me, too: from the Kon-Marie call to purge and simplify one’s life, the rise of Buy Nothing communities, to the hilarious-yet-convicting Jen Hatmaker read 7: An Experimental Mutiny against Excess… there’s a lot out there that commends buying less, having less, living more.

What complicates it further is increasingly realizing how privileged our wealth is. We work hard, yes… but there is no way that I can say I worked for and deserve all I have. I am, from birth to death, the recipient of bucketloads of privilege. Born with a white skin to educated parents in a country where the legal system opened doors to whiteness that it slammed to brownness: I got health care, education, opportunity. I was born English-speaking in a world that favors English. Having financial stable relatives opened doors to being able to do things like buy homes, travel, secure loans for entrepreneurial ideas. Privilege cumulates: it wasn’t just that I was born into privilege… it’s that the system continues to reward it. (For a brilliant explanation, read this on how riding a bike taught this guy about privilege).

So then, what does it look like to be a privileged, wealthy person of faith? Jesus has called me to simplicity and to

Our cherry tree. Oh, the bounty.

pursue the Kingdom first and to beware of greed and the love of money which is like bermuda grass to the soul… and yet I live in this place, in this time, in this skin. We own a car. We own a (big) house. We have fruit trees that produce cherries and plums and tongue-tang perfect oranges. We live in a safe, well-resourced community with a school district that is the envy of surrounding cities. Having more (food! savings! travel! cute shoes!) is not only possible, but desirable… and is strongly encouraged by every glossy-paged advert that gets stuffed into my mailbox.

It’s so easy to be greedy.

And, coupled with news of those starving all over the world and the realities that it is not merit but mercy that separates my living conditions from theirs, it’s so easy to feel guilty.

I’ve been wrestling with this since we moved into what is admittedly our dream house a couple months ago. What does it mean to live amid such abundance? I am tempted to downplay the gifts (“oh, this old thing? let me point out the faults so you aren’t too jealous…”), or just ignore them completely. Or feel guilty. Guilt is always knocking at the door asking to come and play.

However, as I’ve wrestled and prayed over this, God is gentle\y reminding me of some additional truths. Yes, it is true that Jesus had no possessions, but it is also true that his ministry was supported by wealthy women of independent means. While it is true that for our sake, Jesus became poor 2 Cor 8:9., it is also true that  God himself is rich in every way (power! goodness! all creation is his!), and that the Father has no Gilted Guilt over it. Instead: he is GENEROUS with his riches. He lavishes his grace on us. He shares his inheritance with Jesus and all those who are his.

So, rather than feeling guilt and greed over wealth, I am called to gratitude and generosity. 

Command those who are rich in this present world not to be arrogant nor to put their hope in wealth, which is so uncertain, but to put their hope in God, who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment. Command them to do food, to be rich in good deeds, and to be generous and willing to share. (1 Timothy 6:17)

It baffles me that God has set up the world where evil and good thrive side by side: where we will “always have the poor with us”, while others are “richly provided with everything for their enjoyment.” And it baffles me all the more that we are in the latter rather than the former category. Why? Why? I don’t know. It is a mystery; it is not merited.

I may not know why, but I do know what God asks of us, should we find ourselves among the fed/clothed/free/literate/privileged. He asks us not to put our confidence in that, but in Him. He asks us to enjoy what we have as gifts. And he asks us to be generous. Generous with our time, generous with our money, generous with our home.

Yes, there are those who identify with the sufferings of Jesus in his poverty; but perhaps there is also a place for us to gratefully identify with the God who has plenty and throws his arms and doors open to the world and invites them to share in his goodness. And so—following his example—we say yes, we can host that dinner. Yes, you may borrow our car. Yes, we can help with this or that.

Not guilt, gratitude.

Not greed, generosity.

Remind me of this if you see me getting tangled (again), please? And come over and eat bread and pick fruit off our trees: come and taste and see with us that the Lord is good.




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6 thoughts on “Which is more blessed: poverty or plenty? (Some thoughts on wealth, faith, and the feelings that go with that)”

  1. barbara plumb

    I am sad that you buy into the White Guilt that the left is thrusting on all of society. Your other posts have been inspirational. This country provides opportunity to all skin colors. Look around you. The poverty and lack of education are the biggest barriers, not skin color. Go after your dream and you can achieve it in the USA.

    1. I didn’t mean this to be a sad post. It’s a long road out of entitlement and a world in which we believe we deserve/earned all that we have… I am on a long journey of grappling with our plenty in a world of need, and realizing that I can choose gratitude and generosity is freeing.

  2. Julie Coleman

    Thank you for this! I have struggled with this issue as well. Even to the point of feeling guilty when flushing a toilet, because so many people in the world don’t even have clean water, never mind having it pumped into their house. But then I remind myself: “Every good thing given and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights.” (James 1:17) We have because He has given it to us. So I love your decision to chose gratitude and generosity over guilt. There is another thing that I worry about with all of this current minimalist craze. It’s actually doing the opposite of what it’s enthusiasts claim. It is a temptation to get so focused on that that we lose sight of whom we are supposedly doing this for. Paul warned the Colossians of that very thing. The false teachers were urging them toward self-abasement, and Paul points out it was actually leading them away from Christ. And in reality the whole thing wasn’t accomplishing what they claimed anyway–“These are matters which have, to be sure, the appearance of wisdom in self-made religion and self-abasement and severe treatment of the body, but are of no value against fleshly indulgence.” Col 2:23.

    1. So true. And haha! Yes, I’ve thought about the privilege of flushed toilets, too! You are right, though, that purging/simplicity as its own aims can easily become a different kind of trap for us. The goal, after all, is to seek the Kingdom and the King himself 🙂

  3. Thank you for this honest and transparent essay, Bronwyn.

    I’ve been well-to-do, but at the moment…well. Illness made my doctorate in structural engineering unusable, and my wife has had to take up the full burden of breadwinning – after herself being out of the workforce for many years.

    The upshot is that while I am terminally ill, we cannot afford insurance (for which I have been penalized by the AHCA), and so treatment and even pain meds are unobtainable. I wear shoes until they literally fall to pieces, and have a new pair only due to the generosity of friends. There is no money for dental work, and this morning yet another tooth broke.

    I do not question God; but I do have issues with a society that urges conspicuous consumption, and with a health-care system that will happily provide Viagra and gender-change operations under the AHCA. I have been told that erectile dysfunction and gender identification are very serious issues…I would answer that they might want to trade places for a day, and vomit blood, before ‘serious’ is thus defined.

    No one needs a car that will parallel park itself. If you can’t parallel park, you shouldn’t be driving. No one needs an adventure vacation, heli-ski-ing in the Canadian Rockies, because in a world with finite resources, one is ski-ing over the powdered bones of dead men.

    By the same token, poverty is no badge of honour, and does not confer the right to loot, pillage and steal – even metaphorically – from those who have it better.

    Wealth is not a blessing, and neither is poverty. Both are circumstantial, subject to the vagaries of a fallen world. A poor person can be as greedy as a rich person can be generous.

    The guiding principle is, perhaps, this – that we are all equal in God’s eyes, and the grace we extend has to include generosity to the point of pain, and humility in accepting grace to the point of embarrassment.

    1. Oh, how heartbreaking today must have been for you on the healthcare front 🙁 I’m so sorry. It has been such a difficult road for you and your wife and I so appreciate your sharing your story and painfully-earned wisdom here. And I couldn’t agree more: the love of money is not a snare for the rich alone. Learning contentment (and putting away greed) are challenges for disciples no matter where we fall on the socio-economic continuum.

      Grace to you, friend.

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