The other day President Obama ruffled a few feathers with his statement on business, “You didn’t build that.” These words below have certainly rubbed Republicans the wrong way, and I would imagine perhaps Democrats-though I can’t confirm that. I’ve just seen facebook post after facebook post mock Obama’s infamous or in-famous (depending on your vote) speech.
“If you’ve been successful you didn’t get there on your own….I’m always struck by people who think ‘well, it must be because I was just so smart’. There are a lot of smart people out there! ‘It must be because I worked harder than everybody else.’ Let me tell you something—there are a whole bunch of hardworking people out there!”
And you can imagine that within the same dialog, this probably didn’t endear him any further to many:
“If you’ve got a business, you didn’t build that. Somebody else made that happen.”
Now this blog is for the most part like myself, fairly a-political. So I won’t comment on the political or economic component, but instead the anti-individualistic undertone which comprised Obama’s speech. Mitt Romney and other Republicans have opposed this idea, as well want to remain consistent with their own ideology. But I want to say that I think Obama is actually on to something here, that would be quite beneficial to all Christians. Let me explain.
Obama’s driving force behind this comment is his own democratic ideology: successful businesses should pay a larger amount of taxes than those less successful because they have benefited from someone else’s hard work or government structure. At least I think that’s the gist. They didn’t do it entirely by themselves: they sprang up from good soil.
I think the Christian has to agree with this to a large degree. For instance, none of us could run a succesfull business in communist China, right? But consider the other factors of success. Yes some folks work harder than others; that’s hard to argue! Yet who gives man the intellectual and physical capability to do hard work? Clearly some folks just don’t have it; they were not born with the right tools.
Now think of environment. There are always rags-to-riches stories, but consider the fact that these are in fact “stories,” meaning they are not the norm.
Now none of this obliges you to pay higher taxes to the government. I get that and don’t necessarily see the tit-for-tat connection.
But don’t we (I’m saying those of a more Republican persuasion-which is my personal bias) carry the, “Yes I did build that with my hard work” sentiment into church? I worked hard and continue to work hard at this job, therefore it’s my money. It is my house, so I’m not accountable to use it for hospitality. These are my kids and this is my family so why should I bring someone else into the picture for Thanksgiving or Christmas?
On the contrary, we are dependent upon the Lord who ordains all things. Perhaps this passage may help remind us (I’m pretty forgetful) that ultimately we didn’t build our families, houses, or businesses independently. This is what God has to say on the matter in James 4:13-16
13 Come now, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go into such and such a town and spend a year there and trade and make a profit”— 14 yet you do not know what tomorrow will bring. What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes. 15 Instead you ought to say, “If the Lord wills, we will live and do this or that.” 16 As it is, you boast in your arrogance.
God does ordain all things and has ordained your opportunity, experience, background, situation, environment, and even ability and drive to do hard work.
I think its hard at times to tithe-though I get that I’m a pastor and it would incredibly hypocritical not to-because we have to trust that God will take care of us when we give back 10% of our income. But I really don’t think fear is the primary driving force.
I think it is primarily an issue of ownership. Whose money is it? If it’s God’s money, God’s house, God’s business, God’s family, then it’s much easier to trust Him with continuing to provide the money, or provide for our houses, businesses, and families.
If you are one who has worked hard, regularly works hard, has taken great risks for a business venture, I personally applaud you. Any sort of work, particularly starting businesses, takes guts, vision, determination, risk, and perseverance. I just think that the hardest working among us are perhaps the most vulnerable to forget the truth found in James 4:13-16.
Distinctly Republican thinking (of which I lean) or distinctly American individualistic thinking (of which most people lean) can sometimes replace-albeit in a subtle way-distinctly gospel-centered thinking and living.