Being Blessed and Being Lucky

My father-in-law has on occasion corrected me when I have said that I feel "lucky" about various things: about the health and intelligence of my children, about my husband's secure and well-paying job, about my success as a writer, about living in America, about friends and family who support me. He wants me to use the word "blessed" because he feels strongly that all good things in life come from God, and that we need always to be grateful to God for those good things.

On the one hand, I understand the desire to express gratitude for what is good in life. I've written about gratitude before and it is an important principle for happiness. But on the other hand, I feel like saying that I believe God has given me children who are intelligent or a good job or success--denies the reality of luck. And also of privilege.

I am a white woman born to a family of middle-class, education-oriented parents. While there were certainly challenges for my parents in their marriage, including eleven children to raise and feed and clothe and watch over, they stayed together. I never truly worried about financial insecurity. There was always food. My parents might not have been able to buy me nice clothes, but they could always clothe me. Because I had a lot of security physically, I had the energy to focus on getting a good education, including a PhD.

Do I think that God ordained the world so that everything would be in place for me to have that education? It seems a bit self-centered to imagine that. It also seems to dismiss the horrors that other people face in other countries. How does God feel about them? Didn't He care about them getting an education? I can't believe that He thought I would do a better job than so many others. I can be grateful for the opportunity, but I am also aware that it isn't because I deserve it. It doesn't mean I am better than others, that God ordained me to this. It only means that it happened. And perhaps that I have a responsibility to see those in need whom I can help and pass my fortune along to others.

Can we believe in a world in which both luck and God play a part? Well, I know many who feel the two concepts are incompatible, but for me, they are not. I also think that science and God are not incompatible, and I will argue with any who say that they are. Evolution does not mean that God does not exist. It only means that He uses what systems are in place by the laws of the universe in order to create His desired outcomes. Luck is, to me, one of those laws.

I am not who I am necessarily because I am the desired outcome of manipulated events for millennia. I am who I am and so God chooses to use me. He asks me to see my own privilege and to acknowledge that it is not something I deserve. I, in turn, do not use the concept of God to proclaim that the power structure that brought me to my position today is right and proper and should never be challenged. This is true both within and without my own church's power structure.

In particular, I dislike the idea that material wealth is a sign of God's favor or that Christians should be seeking material wealth in order to spread the word of God or to do other good things. While I believe that on occasion, the laws of the gospel can help to live a peaceful, purposeful life and that this will often lead to learning lessons that aid in keeping a job, I do not think that becoming rich is a proper goal of a Christian. As the scripture says, it is more difficult for the rich man to reach heaven that for a camel to go through the eye of the needle.

Using Christ as an example, it also seems just as likely that following the principles of Christianity can lead to being outcast, to being persecuted, and even to being considered an enemy of the state. If you need to win friends and influence people to become rich, I'm not sure that Christ is the way to do that. Christ taught us to love the poor and the most despised among us, not to love the people who can get us further along in the business world. He said quite clearly that we are to give to Caesar what is Caesar's, and that this is not part of His kingdom.

To me, this means that when someone escapes a terrible car accident without a scratch, I am more likely to chalk this up to luck than I am to say that it was the hand of God. This does not mean that I would not be grateful if I survived an accident, only that I wouldn't ascribe it to God's choice to save me over the millions of other people who die in car accidents.

Too many good people face terrible things for me to blithely say that I was blessed and they were not. Too many innocents are killed and too many wicked people spared for me to believe that God chooses the outcome of every event. I cannot accept that everything has a reason on this level. To insist that God oversees and approves all tragedies because He has a "plan" for all that pain seems to me to admit to a sadistic kind of father. I can't look at the pain and suffering of those next to me and feel certain that they are "meant" to suffer and I am not. We are all meant to see each other's needs and to help, regardless of either luck or blessing.