Do not say to yourself, “My power and the might of my own hand have gotten me this wealth.” But remember the Lord your God, for it is he who gives you power to get wealth so that he may confirm his covenant that he swore to your ancestors, as he is doing today.
Oh, dear. This passage is one of those that strikes me as particularly problematic, and even more so as we embark on an election year.
See, sometimes I think we take this idea and run with it just a little too far. You hear it all the time, but especially when anyone is running for office — the thinly veiled (and sometimes not at all veiled) undertones of morality and virtue related to wealth.
That those who have risen are wealthy and powerful because they deserve it. Because they are rewarded for morality and piety, virtue and obedience. It’s the Puritan work ethic, all with the unspoken other side of the coin — that those who suffer do not deserve better. That illness or poverty is an outward sign of an inner moral blemish.
Of course, that’s entirely untrue but that’s done nothing to eradicate that kind of thinking from our culture.
Now, things would have been different when this was written. For one, success WOULD have been much more dependent on things out of one’s control. A livestock and agriculture based society is subject to the whims of nature — a heavy rain or prolonged drought may wreak havoc. A tribal society is at the mercy of many things outside of control; contact with other groups, availability of land, nature. In a very real sense, then, one would feel that success and wealth were a gift from God.
But we don’t live in that society. We live in a culture with an entirely different economy, one that has structures and systems that can create success or make it far more difficult based on the circumstances of one’s birth. Despite the high-minded rhetoric we use to surround them, these systems are not natural. They are not unalterable. They are not, in fact, the work of God but of man.
Yet we cling, on some level, to this idea even unspoken. That wealth is a sign of God’s favor.
So things like this give me pause. Because I think of the way they underlay our assumptions and attitudes. About who has what, and who is worthy. And how that all distracts us from looking at what is really going on.