On Wealth and Riches: What Is The Christian Position?   Leave a comment

Introduction

Many people say that possessing wealth is a bad thing. In light of both intentional socio-political movements throughout more recent times and even theological misunderstandings that have occurred earlier then our more recent times, we feel guilty if we succeed. The problem is such thinking would only hold true if Christianity thought that creation was evil or bad, that having plenty is an evil, but I argue in this post that having plenty is not evil, wealth [like everything else] only has the propensity to become an evil. It is the purpose of the post to describe the proper relationship between Man and Wealth, in light of Christian Revelation as well as to point out the spiritual dangers in ones life for giving wealth too much emphasis.

Wealth CAN Be Good

There are people from the the various politico-economic ideologies that think Christianity is anti-free market, if not something of an authoritarian socialist ideology. Often misunderstanding the Apostle Paul’s statement concerning Money and the Root of all Evil. Quickly I will point out that, money is just an object: a medium of exchange, a unit of account, a store of stable value, and a standard of deferred payment. These things in and of themselves are impersonal and in no way possess an inherent evil to them that I can think of at this time:

WE need to be able to have indirect exchange if we are ever to escape out of the primitive barter system.
WE need to be able to determine the worth of things as expressed in that medium of exchange that people will end up using.
WE need to be able to make sure that our work one day is worth at or around the next days work, we need stability in the money we all use throughout time.
WE need to be able to point out when a debt is due, so that way we maybe able to choose to collect or forgive debts owed to us.

When someone works they work for themselves, their life’s work is often expressed in the production of a product or the offering of a service that they passionately choose to be in (ideally). The expression of their passionate productivity is expressed in the form of an income which is called the “fruit of their labor” and that is theirs first and foremost, not society’s money. People ought to have full choice to be able to decide what they need and want and what they are willing to exchange with said income in the only institution of Free Exchange and Association: The Marketplace.

Upon reading a few of the Entries from Clement of Alexandria’s Text called, “Who Is The Rich Man That Shall Be Saved?” we learn the following:

“What then was it which persuaded him to flight, and made him depart from the Master, from the entreaty, the hope, the life, previously pursued with ardour?—’Sell your possessions.’ And what is this? He does not, as some conceive off-hand, bid him throw away the substance he possessed, and abandon his property; but bids him banish from his soul his notions about wealth, his excitement and morbid feeling about it, the anxieties, which are the thorns of existence, which choke the seed of life.” – Entry 11

“Riches, then, which benefit also our neighbours, are not to be thrown away. For they are possessions, inasmuch as they are possessed, and goods, inasmuch as they are useful and provided by God for the use of men; and they lie to our hand, and are put under our power, as material and instruments which are for good use to those who know the instrument. If you use it skilfully, it is skilful; if you are deficient in skill, it is affected by your want of skill, being itself destitute of blame. Such an instrument is wealth.” – Entry 14

“But if one is able in the midst of wealth to turn from its power, and to entertain moderate sentiments, and to exercise self-command, and to seek God alone, and to breathe God and walk with God, such a poor man submits to the commandments, being free, unsubdued, free of disease, unwounded by wealth. But if not, ‘sooner shall a camel enter through a needle’s eye, than such a rich man reach the kingdom of God.’ (Mark 10:25)” – Entry 26

I also enter into this discussion a rather interesting Autobiogaphy of a Blogger who describes himself as a Mystic but who lives in the world as an entrepreneur no less! He goes on to state that:

“Although I am a mystic, my life is not that of most mystics. I am a father and husband who is also an entrepreneur and active businessman. Instead of the religious life, I live life in the so-called ‘fast-lane’. In my heart I am a mystic, and I often feel like an outsider or ‘spy’ in the commercial and secular world.

I don’t use the phrase to set me apart or elevate myself from others who call themselves mystics. Quite the opposite, I use the phrase ‘Practical Mystic’ to simply justify my claim as a mystic at all. I often envy those who have chosen the religious life, monastic life, or even just the simple life. In many ways, they know and can experience things I cannot.

That being said, I realized God has given me a gift: by having the heart of, and seeing the world as, a mystic I am able to provide unique insight into places and topics that are otherwise seen as secular, neutral, or Godless. Living as a mystic in the corporate world has allowed me to see how God works in the world, even in the places people go to get away from Him.”

This is something important to note, in our world we are commanded to “Be Fruitful and Multiply” yet we have a responsibility to the ones we raise to take care of them, to make sure that they grow and develop properly and have their needs met. In our world this takes money to do, to top this, God is not a stiff-necked efficient Victorian-era being, there is also a desire to make sure that one can have recreation in our lives as well, life is just as much play as it is work, in fact playing and participation in the Divine Life is what we are called to, being too serious is depressing for the soul, the presence of the Divine Life is supposed to be one filled also with a sense of Joy!

Wealth CAN Be Bad

Of course, in light of what I had just written above some will feel like I am giving license to Greed and Over-consumption, like as if I was some modern day preacher or something making vain promises to people. Therefore, let there be a balancing perspective as well on this post, wealth has its purposes as I expressed above, but like anything else it can also be perverted. We can become obsessive about the accumulation of Wealth, especially at other peoples expense, whether by force, fraud, or theft. Again this question is a question not of the inherent evil found in money, but the inherent weakness found in man! Money can only be the Root of Evil if we allow it to be in our hearts and minds first.

In Cyril of Alexandria’s Mystagogical Oration #5 we see him offering commentary to The Our Father, and as he comments on the portion which says, “And lead us not into temptation, O Lord” we find Cyril talk about temptation as it relates to money:

“For temptation is, as it were, like a winter torrent difficult to cross. Those therefore who are not overwhelmed in temptations, pass through, shewing themselves excellent swimmers, and not being swept away by them at all; while those who are not such, enter into them and are overwhelmed. As for example, Judas having entered into the temptation of the love of money, swam not through it, but was overwhelmed and was strangled.”

The irony to Judas was that Judas was the money holder during Jesus’ Ministry and a scene unfolds which revealed that while Judas was interested in using the money to help the poor by selling off the perfume given to Jesus for his Burial, Jesus criticized him saying that, “You’ll always have the poor but you wont always have me.” I find this whole scene to be very telling of wealth among other blessings, when our lives are centered around the duplicity of peoples and tasks before us, we become lost and confused as Judas was, but when our lives are centered around God then we know what we need to do with that which has been provided to us. Let us then put our hopes in something substantial, as the Blogger from Yaholo.net has said,

“Scripture gives us two clear directions for where we should invest our hope. First, we put our heart and our hope in the life to come. This world will never be the ideal place we wish it could be. If people invest all their hopes in this world, they will always be disappointed. Our ultimate hope is that we endure this life with grace and determination knowing the kingdom of God is our true reward…”

This culture of ours with its hyper-materialism and consumerism is both a gift and a curse on us. I have said elsewhere that on one hand such consumerism in one sense can testify to our wealth and plenty, consumerism was designed – I believe – to maximize the availability of various items to improve the quality of life for the maximum number of people, whether those items are necessary or not. However, such an idea has been perverted into a mere tool of distraction that has societal and psycho-spiritual consequences on our individual lives, causing Greed and Envy to take the helm in our lives. These vices are only able to enter into our hearts if our lives are based on constant comparisons to others around us and the position from which we determine our values: God’s or Fallible Human Society.

In light of this post, let me reiterate that there is no inherent evil to possessing plenty, it only becomes an evil when one cannot willingly give it up or if one possesses plenty at the intentional expense of others, excesses in anything should be tempered, if a person possesses much money, then they shouldn’t seek to flaunt it to the point of extravagance if they are interested in following the spiritual life, but rather possess a frugal and humble mindset and property, indeed the story of most millionaires is not about bringing in a lot of money, but of savings, cutting back on expenses, and living within your limits.

Advertisements

What Do You Think?

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: