Trivializing Tragedy – Part 2

Michael Metzger

Acquire and delight.
Last week I introduced us to the trivialization of tragedy. We contribute to this calamity when we see maturity as being "poor in spirit" and a race to the bottom. The biblical picture of good fortune and blessedness is satiated sheep. "He makes me lie down in green pastures." When do sheep lie down? When they are full, fat, and happy. True spirituality is prosperity, not poverty.

Not the whacky "name it and claim it" health-and-wealth kind of gospel. No, I’m talking about a proper view of wealth, affluence, and maturity. For over two-thousand years, the ancient Judeo-Christian tradition painted a picture of affluence and fatness as it ought to be (Creation) , how it is often screwed up (The Fall), how affluence can be virtuous (Redemption) and what affluence will be (i.e., in the final Restoration). Beginning in Genesis, the condition of affluence is a cosmic good, at the core of God’s eternal vision for human beings. It’s why the two great themes in Genesis are acquire and delight.

"You may eat of every tree of the garden," which expresses much more than mere concern for their nutrition. The first vision of material human existence we get from Scripture is not a narrative of just "getting by" on a diet of "daily bread," a counsel of "just enough." Rather, it opens to us the vast, superfluous horizon of freedom for delight that God gave to human beings in the beginning.1

Acquire and delight are threaded throughout the Scriptures and fulfilled in the new heavens and new earth; where nothing is missing and nothing is broken. Even in the Exodus (a picture of the Fall and redemption), God lays before Israel a picture of a land flowing with milk and honey.

My soul is satisfied as with marrow and fatness, and my mouth offers praises with joyful lips.2

You have crowned the year with your bounty, and your paths drip with fatness.3

The same goes for God’s description of eternity – it’s larded with treasure and riches. If it is truly advantageous to be riddled with poverty (materially and/or spiritually), why aren’t the new heavens and new earth one big ghetto with gutted row houses and heroin addicts? Instead, we are enticed with gold, silver, and precious stones.4 In the new heavens and new earth, we will acquire new bodies. We will enjoy sumptuous feasts. We will do our work and enjoy a high ROI. The best and brightest (those found to be faithful) will be selected as mayors of cities. I assume the pay grade is pretty good for that kind of work. If this all sounds like la-la land, we have to hold in tension the fact that we live in a fallen world where inequalities and injustices rage. But "the important contrast is not between extreme wealth and some properly moderate level of enjoyment, but is between extreme indulgence on the one hand and true delight on the other."5

That’s a tension the Book of Amos helps us navigate. Amos recognized the Northern Kingdom of Israel was prosperous, affluent, and that religion was flourishing. The leaders spoke freely about "longing for the day of the Lord." What was the problem then? While the rich rulers were prospering and expressing concern over the spiritual impoverishment of their souls, they didn’t grieve over the material economic ruin that came upon their people. They were not "grieved over the ruin of Joseph."6 They trivialized material poverty in claiming to be poor only in spirit.

The last thing we need is a chorus of cavalier people trivializing tragedy. Poverty is a tragedy. And sure, we all suffer from "soul" poverty. But mine comes from luxury; the urban core’s comes from lack. Let’s not equate the two nor disdain affluence. Look at King David who sang, played music, danced into the night, ate the best meals, and drank fine wines. But he also grieved over injustice and inequality. Jesus held together these two tensions – joy and sorrow.7 "This, I think, is the starting point for affluent people in modern societies today: we cannot be righteous unless we have a proper sense of grief."8 We ought to grieve over material poverty.

Poverty of spirit is not the biblical vision; it’s humility, which is a noble virtue. "O people, the Lord has told you what is good, and this is what he requires of you: to do what is right, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God."9 The Creator God wants our spirit to be fat and happy, not impoverished. This vision brackets the bookends of Creation and the final Restoration. In between, God also calls us to properly grieve while working joyfully to make the fallen, tragedy-saturated world a better place.

1 John R. Schneider, The Good of Affluence: Seeking God in a Culture of Wealth, (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2002), p.59
2 Psalm 63:5
3 Psalm 65:11
4 C.f., I Corinthians 3:10-15
5 John R. Schneider, The Good of Affluence: Seeking God in a Culture of Wealth, (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2002), p.103
6 C.f., Amos 6:4-7
7Notice how Jesus held together joy and sorrow: "We do this by keeping our eyes on Jesus, the champion who initiates and perfects our faith. Because of the joy awaiting him, he endured the cross, disregarding its shame. Now he is seated in the place of honor beside God’s throne." (Hebrews 12:2, The Message)
8 John R. Schneider, The Good of Affluence: Seeking God in a Culture of Wealth, (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2002), p.106
9 Micah 6:8


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