I am a white upper middle class tertiary-educated able-bodied married Christian heterosexual man living in one of the wealthiest, highest HDI-rated countries in the world. That puts me in about every category possible for having ‘privilege’.
In the last few years, the phrase ‘check your privilege’ has gained a lot of traction in some circles as a rebuke for failing to recognise the hardships other people face, while forgetting the privileged circumstances of our own lives that we take for granted.
There’s a good explanation of it here if you’re not familiar with it.
There’s also a great cartoon (check it out here) that nicely points out the ease with which we can deceive ourselves into thinking that we ‘earned’ all the good things we enjoy, while forgetting the many blessings we have received that are in fact outside our control.
And while I don’t always agree with the way the phrase is used, I think there’s a pretty huge nugget of truth in it. In fact, I think it encapsulates some deeply biblical truths. Of all people, Christians should be the first to check their privilege.
The Bible makes clear that everything we have is something we have received from God.
1 Corinthians 4:7 says, “What do you have that you did not receive? And if you did receive it, why do you boast as though you did not?”
Here’s the challenge this verse put to us: name one thing you have that God didn’t give you. Your good looks? Your intelligence? Your education? Your money?
And the reality is, you can’t. Every single thing you have (physical or otherwise) is a gift from God.
Now hold on, you might say. I worked hard for my money! And no one gave me my education on a silver platter – I put years of hard work into it.
But that misses the point. Even our hard work is a gift from God (1 Corinthians 15:10).
In Deuteronomy 8:17-18, God says, “You may say to yourselves, ‘My power and the strength of my hands have produced this wealth for me.’ But remember the LORD your God, for it is HE who gives you the ability to produce wealth.”
Oh, you worked hard for that money, did you? Who gave you the arms you used to do the work? And whose air were you breathing that whole time? Your own?
Of course not. We have nothing we didn’t receive from God.
I didn’t choose the family or country I was born into, nor the physical or mental abilities that I was born with. There are many child-labourers in impoverished nations who work harder than you or I ever will, and yet they aren’t rewarded with wealth and security for their toil.
The Bible is absolutely clear that God is the creator and giver of all good things (James 1:17), so we can’t claim credit for anything we have in our lives.
Christians should be the first to check their privilege.
Three Implications Once We Acknowledge Our Privilege
It’s all well and good to acknowledge our privilege, but what difference does that actually make? At least three things:
Once we acknowledge God as the giver of every good thing in our lives, gratitude should be the natural and instinctive response. How gracious God has been to us, beyond anything we deserve!
Flowing out of gratitude is humility. If it’s right that I thank God for everything I have, then I can’t boast about my possessions, hard work or abilities. They’ve been given to me.
That passage from 1 Corinthians 4 (above) was originally written to address the pride of the Corinthian Christians. God’s generosity bursts the illusion of self-dependency.
Finally, acknowledging our privilege should cause us to be merciful and generous to others.
Why was I born in Australia and not Syria? Why was I born into a loving Christian family in a stable, democratic country? Is it because of anything I did to deserve it? Of course not!
As the old saying goes, “There but by the grace of God go I.” As we watch the news and see Syrian refugees clawing for survival, it can seem a world away. But it’s only by the grace of God that I’m not one of those people in front of the camera.
If it could just as easily be me in one of those dingy, overcrowded inflatable rafts crossing over to Europe, then how can I possibly look away with disinterest?
This should not only drive us to humility, but to action.
I constantly need to be reminded to check my privilege, to acknowledge the many undeserved blessings God has given me, and to stand up for those who haven’t been blessed in the same way.