Eyes Above The Waves

Robert O'Callahan. Christian. Repatriate Kiwi. Hacker.

Sunday 4 September 2022

Success, Privilege And God

I totally agree with Ed Zitron when he writes

Anyone that has achieved any level of success wants to believe they did so based on noble terms and tells their story in a way that makes them seem both like a moral paragon and someone that’s “earned” their place.
Privilege isn’t just about being rich, or white, or male, or any number of other conditions that make life easier by default, and one can be an incredibly hard worker and still be quite privileged. Privilege is the ability to work hard when it actually matters, which is to say that simply working hard is not enough to succeed if your hard work doesn’t lead to actual success because the right person wasn’t watching or you weren’t at the right company, or you were overlooked based on your gender or the color of your skin.

Even "intrinsic" circumstances such as our talents are not something that we earned. As C.S. Lewis wrote in The Screwtape Letters:

People did not create themselves... their talents were given them, and they might as well be proud of the colour of their hair.

I agree with Zitron and Lewis that we have an unhealthy tendency to take credit for our own success. But pushing against that too hard may lead to a mindset that nothing we do makes any difference — we're just a victim of circumstances — which leads to apathy and irresponsibility. So how do we find the right way to think about this tension?

Jesus gives us a simple and elegant approach in Luke 12:48:

"From everyone who has been given much, much will be demanded; and from the one who has been entrusted with much, much more will be asked."

That's so simple it's almost trite, but I think it's actually very deep, especially when interpreted in the broader context of Luke and other teachings such as the parable of the talents. First Jesus affirms that the good things we have have been given to us by God, directly or indirectly. We can't take credit for them. But then he tells us that God expects a lot from us in return; we have to make the most of what God has given us. In fact, in the context it's clear Jesus is talking about the day of divine judgement. There is no room for apathy; God requires our very best efforts.

This is a beautiful and elegant answer to a very practical dilemma. It's important to notice that this answer doesn't work without God — the Creator who also judges. If you take God out of the equation then there is not necessarily anyone to feel grateful to for our success, and we are obliged to no-one to make the most of what we have.