Where You Were Born Matters

“Nazareth! Can anything good come from there?” Nathaniel asked. “Come and see,” said Philip.
– John 1:46

While reading Psalm 87, my attention was caught by the fourth verse. God speaks: “Among those who know me, I mention Rahab and Babylon; Philistia too, and Tyre, with Ethiopia – ‘This one was born there,’ they say.” (Some scholars think Rahab in this verse is a reference to Egypt.) The psalm ends, “Indeed, it shall be said of Zion, ‘This one and that one were born there.’ He, the Most High, will preserve it. The Lord will inscribe in the register of peoples that each was born there. Selah. Singers and dancers alike [will say]: ‘All my roots are in You.’”

Where you were born matters. An article in The World in 2013 cited Warren Buffett as having said that everything good that had happened to him was because he was born “in the right country, the United States, at the right time (1930).” In 1988, the United States would have been the best country in which to have been born, ranked at the top of a list of 50 countries, according to The World in 1988. In “The where-to-be-born index, 2013,” the United States ranked 16th out of 80 according to 11 indicators, tied with Germany.

The words of Psalm 87 suggest that if where we were born matters, it matters most of all to God.

It wasn’t long after reading Psalm 87 and reflecting on these best-places lists that my wife, Willa, and I were in Chicago celebrating our youngest grandchild’s first birthday. I imagined finding our grandson’s name listed in a divine registry as having been “born there” – Chicago – and “born then” – 2013. I wondered what the United States and the world would be like in 2030, when Simon celebrates his 17th birthday. What will be true for all our grandchildren is that everything good that happens to them will be the result of their place and date of birth, much as it has been for Warren Buffett and others who have found this country to be a land of opportunity.

But I wondered, too, about those children who were born in countries such as Nigeria (no. 80), Kenya (no. 79) or Ukraine (no. 78) in 2013 instead of Switzerland (no. 1), Australia (no. 2), or Norway (no. 3). What will be their prospects for a “good life” in 2030?

Perhaps more important, is one’s fortune or misfortune of being born in a certain place best measured by what economists count as a good life? Jesus claimed that, unlike other shepherds, he was the good shepherd who had come not to take life but to give a life that is best described as abundant. The abundant life Jesus promised might be a better way to measure the prospects of being born in any given place. The words of Psalm 87 suggest that if where we were born matters, it matters most of all to God. And don’t be too surprised if that city or country turns out to be a most unlikely source of something very good!


George Brown Jr. is retired from teaching Christian education at Western Theological Seminary, Holland, Michigan.

Photo:hectorio/Flickr, under Creative Commons License.