Hardworking, Lucky or Blessed?

The rich are getting richer, and the poor – poorer. Recent evidence is that the wealth inequality gap widens. This trend has only accelerated under coronavirus.

One of the ways that we account for this, and wash our hands of any responsibility, is by the use of the term ‘meritocracy’. Even if you don’t know the word, you will know the idea. People who work harder and smarter get ahead. Cream rises to the top.

Anecdotes of smart, hardworking successful people are used to support this thinking. The fact that there are even smarter and harder working people who have not succeeded is conveniently overlooked. Recent economic modelling reveals meritocracy is a myth. The most successful people are not the most talented, rather the luckiest.

Economics Professor Robert Franks wrote a book in 2016 entitled ‘Success and Luck: Good Fortune and the Myth of Meritocracy’ arrives at the same conclusion.

Readers of Proverbs and Ecclesiastes might affirm this insight is “nothing new”, “God gives the task of gathering and storing up wealth to hand it over to the one who pleases God” (Eccl 2:26).

This is not to encourage laziness. The pattern affirmed in Proverbs “Lazy hands make for poverty, but diligent hands bring wealth” (10:4) is not to be dismissed.

But it does encourage compassion for those who genuinely struggle. God instituted a system of leaving parts of the harvest for widows (think of Ruth and Naomi). Luke’s gospel and the book of James remind us of our calling to care for the poor.

We don’t value hoarding possessions; they are not the trophies of my success. Rather we value generosity - God has blessed us, so we can bear his image, and be a blessing to others as he has blessed us.

Rev David Rietveld

Senior Minister

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