Vol. 5, No. 6
~ Page 15 ~
A friend recently requested help in defining the American Dream. My reply was my opinion -- and that only -- for the term is often used but vague in meaning. Many associate it with materialistic progress. To me, it is so much more than that. The American Dream unites high principles of the equality of all humans and the reward of a strong work ethic. It highlights potential and offers opportunity for the honest seizure of it through freedom from oppression. Many of history's cultures have mired themselves in the dogmatism of racial and class distinctions. If one was born poor and enslaved, he stayed that way. There was no hope. Only with a democratic system that rewarded people for their individual effort were such binding shackles thrown off. The American Dream gives people hope to advance themselves. It provides opportunity for thinkers to propagate their ideas. It is not the license to serve one's own pleasures, but the freedom for honest labor to be rewarded outside of the constricting boundaries of dictatorial societal castes and causes. Those rewards may be financial, but more often than not, they are otherwise. They are the rewards of knowing others have benefited from one's research and work. That, to me, is the American Dream.
The Christian Reality, if you'll permit the coining of such a phrase, is, though, far better than such a dream. The American Dream is a lofty ideal, but it is often corrupted by man's sinfulness. His greed hinders the notion of doing good for others. His selfishness keeps others from benefiting. And man continues to find ways to oppress his brother, even in the midst of laws and principles forbidding such. But, nothing can hamper the Christian reality. There will be hypocrites, but they will not deter the committed. There will be sins that invade the lives of individual members of the Lord's church, but they will not exceed the magnitude of God's forgiveness (when one is penitent and seeks such pardon). Paul's lofty, inspired language of Romans 8:35-39 articulates a dramatic list of the things that CANNOT stand in between a person and his Lord who loves him:
Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? As it is written: "For Your sake we are killed all day long; We are accounted as sheep for the slaughter." Yet in all these things we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us. For I am persuaded that neither death nor life, nor angels nor principalities nor powers, nor things present nor things to come, nor height nor depth, nor any other created thing, shall be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.
The most striking difference between the American Dream and the Christian Reality is the dependability of the benefactor. With the American Dream, the benefactor, or one who provides the blessings, is at least purported to be the individual. If he works hard and long, with diligence and persistence, he can accomplish his goals. (This thinking has its flaws, for God is ultimately the provider of all good gifts, but this is how the common thinking goes). This benefactor, in this scheme, is a mere human being, susceptible to all the faults that can be caused by temptation, sin and even innocent but harmful circumstance. The Dream is called a dream because of its relative uncertainty. The benefactor cannot be depended upon because he does not control every aspect of his life.
The Christian Reality, however, is a surety. If one is keeping the commandments of God, he can KNOW that he enjoys a right relationship with the Creator (1 John 2:3-4). He then relies not on a feeble human being to make his way, but the all-powerful God who is in control of the universe. Now, that doesn't mean he can manipulate God to give him his way all the time, but it does mean that God will be with him through thick and thin. Just look at the apostle Paul's attitude through his turmoil. He learned to trust in God, who is capable of raising the dead! (2 Cor. 1:8-9).
The American Dream is a great opportunity testifying to the goodness of a democratic system. The Christian Reality, though, is far better, for it trusts in a more dependable benefactor. And, oh, yes, no matter how much accumulation of the fruits of the American Dream (whether it is measured in money, goals, professional or societal advancement) one acquires, it only lasts -- for that individual -- as long as this life does. The fruits of the Christian Reality, on the other hand, last for all eternity. That is the difference that cannot be beaten.