In my book, Zebedee and Sons Fishing Co., I wrote how Jesus, as He began His earthly ministry, recruited the senior management away from Zebedee and Sons Fishing Company and left Zebedee alone on the lakeshore with boats full of fish, nets waiting to be hung, and nobody to help.
Yet, even with this setback, Zebedee is the epitome of the American Dream.
He worked hard, built a company, planned and saved for retirement, and wanted only the best for his family and friends. And, because of Jesus, those plans came crashing to an end.
Or so we thought (and I thought as well as I pieced together this fictitious story about Zebedee).
Does God Want You to be Happy?
You see, I have been struggling with the concept of the American Dream for some time.
Many writers today have chiseled down the idea of the American Dream down to simply the accumulation of wealth. Their basis is sometimes the influence of the prosperity gospel and sometimes the influence of the secular definition of culture. Regardless of their rational, these writers fall victim to assuming the reason people work hard is to make money to be happy. They think everyone believes God wants them to be happy.
The Real American Dream
Zebedee was not happy when he lost his management team to Jesus. But it did not change his appreciation for the American Dream. He knew he was not relying on his abilities but the grace of God.
What many forget is the original definition of the American Dream. The historian Truslow Adams, who coined the phrase American Dream, wrote:
The dream is “of being able to grow to fullest development as man and woman, unhampered by the barriers … in the older civilizations, unrepressed by social orders which had developed for the benefit of classes rather than for the simple human being of any and every class.” The bedrock premise of the American Dream is not self-reliance, consumerism, or materialism. It’s liberty.
Zebedee was the epitome of the American Dream because his fishing business allowed him the liberty to work, employ workers, and be self-reliant. He could realize his fullest capabilities with God’s divine wisdom.
The Bible and the American Dream
So, if we are going to compare the American Dream to our faith in Christ, we need to look at what the Bible says about liberty and freedom and not about personal fears, materialism, and consumerism.
It is true that America was founded on freedom, but for the most part, that was freedom from tyranny. True freedom, the gospel tells us, is trusting obedience, the obedience of faith which is radically different from freedom from tyranny. Yet, the law that Christ’s crucifixion freed us from was still a tyranny. It was a tyranny older than the tyranny the original settlers to America were running from; it was the tyranny of denying the authority of God.
Striving for the American Dream is being a Christian. Seeking the freedom that Christ bought for us is an overarching theme of the American Dream. Working hard, enjoying your labor, wanting a future for your family, and seeking safety and security are all biblical principles.
Unfortunately, the 21st-century definition of the American Dream has been polluted to focus on wealth, material accumulation, and getting ahead.
The American Dream is a worthy objective for all Christians. Just remember, freedom of Christ is the freedom you are striving for.