Ah, money. What in our world today does not somehow involve the “almighty dollar?” From even a young age, we recognize the power that money possesses, how it affects those around us, and all the things it can bring us.
We can’t really get away from it. We need money to acquire the necessary things in life: food, shelter, clothing.
It’s the subject (directly or indirectly) of many of our favorite movies and books. It’s the motive behind countless crimes. The lust for it rises above the desire for fairness, preservation, respect, and sometimes even the recognition of others’ basic humanity.
It’s the underlying issue in nearly all political debate (who gives, who gets, how much is spent). It tarnishes friendships. It can destroy family ties. The relentless pursuit for more of it can blind us to the world around us and the needs of those closest to us.
Most people have heard the phase from 1 Timothy, that “the pursuit of money is the root of all kinds of evil.” While on the surface, this may appear extreme, though it is quite arguably true.
I’ve had my own love affair with the pursuit of money, of wealth, of prestige, of status, of continuously having “more.” And on some days, it’s harder for me to ignore her charms than on others. Sadly, I feel certain that as long as I am a part of this world, the siren song of “cha-ching” will continue to enchant me.
When I was younger–a teenager for sure, maybe even younger than that–if someone were to ask me what I wanted to be when I grew up, my response was:
Yep–not much clarification needed there on where my heart and mind were focused.
When reminded that money would not buy me happiness, I would respond immediately:
“Well, it may not buy happiness but it sure as hell makes being miserable a lot better.”
(Sometimes I miss the days when my thoughts were simpler–black and white–and the unquestioning confidence I had that I was right. It was a lot easier than living in the ambiguous gray area I find myself in today. Of course, with few exceptions, when does anything great come without any effort?)
It’s at this point in this writing where I expect some people to start thinking, “OK, great. Now he’s going to start spouting off about how bad it is to have money, how terrible I am for not giving to every request for funds that comes via the mail, a phone call, a GoFundMe page, or the church. Doesn’t he understand that people also have a responsibility to be self-sufficient? Doesn’t he recognize the value of working hard? Shouldn’t I feel just fine about using what I have acquired in whatever way I see fit? And if that means I keep it for myself, that’s my perogative?”
Yep! That’s where I’m going! But not like that–please stay with me for just a little bit further!
Christ’s followers live in “two worlds” at the same time: the world we live in every day, and the world to come where all is perfect according to God’s will. I realize this can sound a little metaphysical or illogical (or just plain weird). (See John 17:619 and 1 John 2:15-16.)
Here’s a simple example of what this means: I’m an American. When I meet someone, I reach out to shake their hand. In Japan, instead of shaking hands, they exchange respectful bows. If I were to visit Japan, would I continue to try to shake hands with people I meet or would I bow? While I am not “of Japan,” I am “in Japan” visiting, so I would adjust to the customs and norms of their culture in order to operate within it. It doesn’t mean that I forget about shaking hands and that when I’m back home I’ll continue to bow when I meet people. (This is sometimes summarized in the expression, “When in Rome, do as the Romans do.”)
Yes, principles such as hard work, self-sufficiency, and enjoying your blessings is fine, as is having money. Hard work and self-sufficiency are valued traits It’s alright to celebrate a job well done. It would be largely impossible to survive in this world without any money at all.
The problem is when the pursuit of money, when our own greed and desire for more in “this world” outweighs what we know is good and right about the “world to come.” This fault, this greed exists in all of us.
So many things happen in this world due to human greed. In the quest for more money, we destroy the environment, treat others as less-than-human, lie, cheat, steal, and even kill.
Take hydraulic fracking, for example. In the quest for more natural gas to sell, companies willingly ruin the water supplies that communities rely on. Sometimes its to the point where the water is so polluted that people can set their tap water on fire.
Or on a larger scale, take world hunger. It’s been shown that we produce enough food that no person on earth should go hungry. Yet how many people (even in our own backyards) are either starving or suffering from food insecurity (i.e. not being sure when they’ll have their next meal and where it will come from)? More than the populations of the United States, Canada, and the European Union–combined.
The next thing that I’m often told after pointing this out is, “Well, what? Am I just supposed to give up everything I have? I can’t fix this! I don’t see you giving every dollar you earn away!”
And that’s correct–you cannot fix this alone. We don’t have to give up everything we have. (Although, Jesus might disagree with me because that is exactly what he tells us to do.)
But just as a single drop of water does not a flood make, if every drop of water refused to fall out of belief that it would not make a difference, there would be no flood.
It only works when we all do our part. When we are all willing to consider the well-being of others above our own selfish desires, we are on the right path. When we give even though the other “doesn’t deserve it” we’re on the right path. When we give not only of our excess, but even when it hurts, we’re on the right path.
And if we each make it our responsibility to do our share, it would be phenomenal what we could all accomplish together.
Fight the love of money and greed with generosity. God loves a cheerful giver. I’ve personally found that sometimes, the cheerfulness comes not only when I’m giving, but after I have given and I know that I’m making the world a better place for someone besides me.