Ambition is held in high regard in North America, as perhaps it should be. Parents encourage their children to work hard in school so that they can get into a good college/university with the hopes that a good education will open doors in the future in terms of attaining a well paying job. Then of course, once you get into a good job the idea is that you can provide well for your family and enjoy the many things that one can experience in life.
The thinking then, is that if you work hard then you’ll be successful in terms of income and can live well. And so some people work very hard in order to attain a certain standard of living. In this case, others can be seen as potential competitors for the finite goods that are out there. Therefore, not only do we work hard but we try to work harder than others as to attain more goods than others and secure for us and our families a better life. If you view others as competitors then you will obviously be slower to freely give to others. I used to play basketball in college and if we were way ahead of the other team then our coaches would urge us to slow down a bit as not to embarrass the other team (giving was ok, since there was no danger of our competitors ever catching up to us). However, if the game was close, and competitive, then you would never think of slowing down for the sake of your opponent, because you are both competing for the same thing. Often we look at life the same way. There are only a finite amount of goods available and so life is like a competitive sport where we compete for the same goods. Therefore, one works hard, and only gives to others if they themselves have a comfortable lead.
However, how might a Creator God fit into this scenario? Were we made to compete with one another? Is it truly by our own hard work that we receive?
If you believe that God created all things then it seems impossible to answer ‘yes’ to any of those questions. If God created all things and all people, then we are not competitors, we are one. In addition, if God created all things and everything we have is from God, then all of our possessions are not actually ‘our’ possessions, they are God’s. “Well I came from a poor family and worked hard in school and have worked hard at my job and so I deserve all that I have due to my hard work and ambition!” one might say. But who gave you the ability to work hard? God did. In fact, it is only by God’s generosity that you or I can exist. Should God decide to stop giving we would cease to exist because God is always giving, He is a pure giver. Therefore, although hard work and dedication are good things, it is *not* by your hard work and ambition that you receive. Rather, you receive because God gives.
Assuming that it is by God’s generosity that we receive and not by our own hard work, then it is safe to say that our possession are not *our* possessions, rather, they are gifts from God. And if we were not created to compete with one another then the gifts that God has given us are not only for us to enjoy. Sure, God gives so that we can live and enjoy life, however, to think that God’s giving ends with us is a lie. God’s giving is like a river that flows, not like a lake that wells up and collects water. Therefore, we are not the end destination of God’s gifts. God gives to us so that we can enjoy but *also* so that we can in turn be givers like God is.
To be truly human is to reflect the God in whose image we are made. Anything less than that is to be less than human (which of course, we are for the moment). However, despite the fact that we live less than human lives part of knowing and following Christ is allowing God to transform you back into a fully human person. And so as God transforms us into His likeness, we better reflect and anticipate God’s future reality when all of creation will be restored and made right. It can then be said, that since God is a giver, we cannot be fully human unless God transforms us into givers and not just receivers.
One of the issues that I see poisoning the Western Church today is that we’re very good at receiving and fairly poor at giving. And so Jesus says that it is hard for a rich person to enter the Kingdom of Heaven. However, since we in the West are rich, this is a verse we tend not to take very seriously, yet, Jesus took it seriously. Take for example the rich young ruler that was unable to follow Christ because he was unable to detach himself from his possessions. We have much in the West and so much is expected from us. Our bank accounts and homes may be full and yet, unless we are being shaped into givers, we are not blessed but cursed.
God generously gives and so all we have is from God and, therefore, is God’s. We receive much, not because of our ambition or hard work, but because God is generous and so we ought not see others as competitors. Instead, as Miroslav Volf put it, we should see others as the intended recipients of God’s gifts. Therefore, to hold on to our possessions and treat them as ‘our’ possessions is to fall short of what it means to be a human being that is made in God’s image.
This is good news to the poor, but terrible news to the wealthy who view their wealth as the result of their own hard work.