From today’s prayers at our church:
O God, help us to remember that all good things come from you. Keep us from turning the many material blessings that you have given us into curses by relying on them instead of on you. Grant that our material blessings bring glory to you and to the good of others.
“Gratitude for material blessings” is a common theme in prayers, and of course it is perfectly proper that we should be grateful for the good things we have. However, there are two things that trouble me about prayers like this.
First, it assumes that the “default setting” for members of the congregation is that they do have “many material blessings”. So a prayer like this can reinforce the church’s status as a largely middle-class institution.
Second, to use the phrase “material blessings” rather than “wealth” or “possessions” is to make a very particular statement about our belongings: namely, that the only moral question which attaches to our wealth is what we do with it, not how we got it or whether we should have it in the first place. Under the guise of giving thanks to God, what we are actually doing is reassuring ourselves that we deserve our wealth and possessions: they are “blessings from God”, so to question whether we should have them is to question God’s wisdom and generosity in giving them to us.
To help us see this, a little thought experiment: imagine one Sunday that the intercessions include this prayer:
Keep us from turning the many sexual blessings that you have given us into curses by relying on them instead of on you. Grant that our sexual blessings bring glory to you and to the good of others.
Immediately we start to protest: “What about all the people in the congregation who don’t experience ‘many sexual blessings': those who are widowed, or unhappily single, or in difficult or loveless marriages? And what about those whose so-called ‘sexual blessings’ are obtained in ways we find objectionable – such as committing adultery?”
In short, while we are acutely aware of the moral complexities involved in sexuality, we often seem blithely unaware of any similar complexities in relation to our wealth and possessions. Perhaps a start point would be actually to call them “wealth and possessions” rather than using loaded, self-exculpatory phrases such as “material blessings”.
Edit: Alastair Roberts made the following observation on Twitter in response to this post: