Tuesday, January 14, 2014

A middle class tale of divine providence

I attend a fortnightly midweek group through my church. Before Christmas we have been watching a series of DVD presentations by a relatively well-known Christian writer, speaker and presenter.

There is quite a career to be had on the publishing and preaching circuit and this chap has been doing it a while. I'm not going to name him because what I'm about to write may come across as personal criticism, when instead it's more of a comment on the demi-evangelical Christianity I haven't been kicked out of yet. (The time is no doubt coming.) But, anyway, despite my preserving his anonymity, I'm sure plenty of people will have seen this DVD.

The session we were watching was on being honest and prospering justly in life. There was a lot of good stuff in there about not cheating your employer and giving your best in work and so on. But then came a personal story that I honestly believe is the most middle class example of God's provision I have ever heard.

I should say, in his defence, it was his own story. He didn't rehash something from the 'Big Book of Dubious Sermon Examples' or give a vague story about something that happened in his uncle's flatmate's church. It was his testimony and perhaps I shouldn't be so harsh.

But this is the gist. The preacher and his wife wanted to buy a bigger house - I think they had a new addition to the family on the way - and they were looking round lots of houses. They saw one that was above their budget and they couldn't really afford, but which they really wanted more than any of the others. So they prayed. And the next day his wife's godmother contacted them and said she felt she 'ought' to give them some money. And wouldn't you know? The amount his wife's godmother gave them was exactly the difference between what they could afford and the price they negotiated on the house.

Huzzah. Divine provision.

It just struck me though, like I said, how irredeemably middle class that was.

First off, we have the 'need'. Not for a house. Not for shelter, a roof over their heads. But for a bigger house.

But it's not as if a bigger house was outside their means. There were others they could afford, but the one they really liked was too expensive. So, it's about having the right house. A nicer house.

And then there's the means of provision. His wife's godmother. Probably a very lovely, saintly person.

But you have to be a certain kind of person to have a godmother. There's a class thing there.

Especially to have a godmother who can afford to bung you a few thousand quid on a whim.

The questions I was left with were, 'What if his wife's parents had been Baptist and she hadn't had a godmother? What would God have done then?'

Along with, 'Why did they need to bother God at all with that request - why didn't they just ask the godmother if they could borrow some cash, which she would probably have just given them?'

My point is that as a testimony it suffers by not being universally applicable - it implies that if you are middle class enough to have a rich godmother your prayers for a nicer house might get answered. It also suffers by not really being about provision. It's about middle class people sharing their wealth with other middle class people.

I keep hearing a lot of talk about 'good news for the poor' and reaching disadvantaged communities with the Gospel. And that's good. But the cause isn't helped when we are mired in our class-based understanding of the necessities of life and our testimonies become about how God has met our middle class wants when talking to a world in need.

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