One of the more astute cultural “memes” involves “first world problems.” First world problems are those annoyances and inconveniences experienced by people who enjoy a good standard of living in industrialized or post-industrialized nations. “First world problems” would include losing remote controls, having the battery die on a smartphone or tablet, getting bored with restaurant choices, and such like. Many of us can identify with these irritants or problems; we may experience them frequently in life.
These “first world problems,” though, are not really problems. Many people wish they could have the problem of getting bored with restaurant choices; many would enjoy just owning a smartphone or a tablet, let alone having one charged with a consistent stream of electricity and connected to the Internet!
Even after all of these years of “progress” and the “advancement of civilization,” most people do not enjoy the standard of living which we enjoy. The real problems of life–hunger and malnutrition, deprivation on account of corruption and/or war, the prevalence of pestilence, rape, violence–remain problems for much of humanity.
We might laugh or snicker at many of the “first world problems,” but it is critically important for us to remember the point of this meme: many of the things which we consider as problematic or bothersome in our lives, in the grand scheme of things, are not that bothersome. “First world problems” are not really problems at all.
It is very easy for most of us in the “first world” to read the New Testament and to still identify ourselves with “the poor.” After all, most of us are in the “99%,” not the “1%.” Most of us have a lot of bills to pay; many of us find it difficult to make ends meet. Since there are some people who are much wealthier than us, we feel poor in comparison.
While most of us might be poor in comparison with the “1%” of American society, almost all of us are fantastically wealthy when compared with the rest of the world. We are exceptionally wealthy compared to Jesus and His earliest followers; we are far better fed, clothed, and sheltered than they. We experience far fewer health problems and enjoy a much better quality of life.
The real “first world problem” is to assume that the lives we enjoy in the first world are “normal” and that we are all entitled to the “normal” lifestyle in our culture. In reality, our quality of life is exceptional; it does not get much better “under the sun” than we have it. Most of us, therefore, are wealthy, and Jesus’ words to the wealthy duly apply to us (cf. Matthew 19:16-26, 1 Timothy 6:6-10, 17-19). Perhaps this is why many people prove disinterested in spiritual matters: they are wealthy and have placed their trust in their material prosperity and not God. Perhaps this is also why many believers are not zealous for spiritual things; they continue to walk by sight according to what they have, and not in faith toward God (2 Corinthians 5:7).
We do well to remember the difference between “first world problems” and “real world problems” because we are never guaranteed the quality of life we currently enjoy. The shadows of the evil plaguing most of the world can also be found in the first world: malnutrition, abuse, rape, corruption, violence, drugs, and the like. People still die, and there is still plenty of hatred and war. “Real world problems” are only a natural disaster, an epidemic, or an explosion away. What will we do if and when truly difficult times come upon us?
We are a blessed people, and we do well to remember that (cf. Ephesians 1:3). All we have comes from God; we deserve nothing; we brought nothing into the world and can take nothing from it (1 Timothy 6:7). Let us keep these things in mind, and humbly trust in God despite having “first world” or “real world” problems!