More and more economists, theologians and Depression Era survivors agree that America’s recent financial crisis had a number of reasons but one basic cause; a bankruptcy of values pertaining to money. One of the reasons being a scarcity of savings and an over-dependence on credit, which is directly connected to the indifference many have for scripture such as that used in the title of this article which finishes by insisting that, “…a man’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions.”
Christian principles are increasingly thought of as quaint or out-dated; as a result, greed (among other things) has quickly begun to infiltrate every aspect of our lives. A character trait Paul associates with evil and depravity (Romans 1:29 & Ephesians 5:3); exhorting us to, “Put to death… whatever belongs to your earthly nature…” Some of which he lists as, “…lust, evil desires and greed, which is idolatry.” Further warning that, “Because of these, the wrath of God is coming.” Colossians 3:5,6 Which makes you wonder if that could be part of what we’ve experienced lately.
Greed spans the political and socio-economic spectrum. Homes are often seen not so much as places where families live but as commodities to be flipped for profit. Corporations that once acknowledged some responsibility to their employees and the community at large now routinely ignore and sacrifice both at the altar of cost cutting for the sake of their shareholders whose only focus is quarterly profits. In doing so, we forget or ignore the Biblical caution that, “A greedy man brings trouble to his family,…” Proverbs 15:27 Compounding the problem, millions of working-class families still buy houses they can’t afford at credit levels they can’t really handle. These bad loans are often then bundled and sold to over-obliging investors who ignore the risks in search of easy money. All the while, government officials not only watch while this happens but facilitate it by repealing much of the Depression-era legislation designed to control such practices in a market historically noted for its volatility. D. Stephen Long, professor of theology at Marquette University asserting that, “The unlimited desire for wealth was always considered a vice,…”; until now.1
Lewis Lapham, editor of the Lapham Quarterly agrees, “Thirty years ago, we began to forget that men are by nature greedy, that speculations are bubbles that burst, that stock market operators are not in it for the greater good of the people but that they are in it for themselves,…” The disastrous stock market crash of 1929 for the most part forgotten – or ignored – by the American public, facts replaced by the illusion that Wall Street has solved the puzzle of market down-turns and that things can go nowhere but up. Former Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan being declared a financial wizard as a result of his – for the most part – successful manipulation of the country’s finances even as billionaire financiers grace the covers of countless magazines. (What Lapham calls a modern-day “adoration of the magi.”) What’s being promoted is, “…the idea that greed is good, to be admired – the worship of mammon,…” 2 (And we should all remember Jesus’ take on that, conveyed in Matthew 6:24)
The federal government (past and present) is struggling to find consensus on how to deal with an economy that at times seems to have recovered but which still threatens to grind to a halt, Lapham insisting something more than mere strategy will be required; such as individuals repenting of their free-spending ways and developing a new sensibility concerning their finances. Laurie Jones, director of education at Momentive Consumer Credit Counseling agrees, seeing the problem as essentially a mind-set compounded by a lack of understanding of basic finances. “(People) want everything. And the only way you can have everything is to go into debt.” This attitude not found exclusively out “there” – in the world – but among today’s church leaders and their congregations as well; some equating godliness with financial prosperity. Scripture correcting that notion by properly defining what prosperity really is; godliness and contentment. As, “People who want to get rich fall into temptation and a trap and into many foolish and harmful desires that plunge men into ruin and destruction.” Assuring us that, “…the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil. (As) Some people, eager for money, have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs.” 1 Timothy 6:5-10 (See also Matthew 6:19-21)
Our personal definition of success and motivation for a life well-lived needs to once again be grounded in faith (John 6:27) and service (1 Peter 5:2 & 2 Timothy 2:3,4); a philosophy now taught in a growing number of churches through programs available from organizations such as Financial Peace and Crown Financial Ministries – whose underlying principles are rooted in Proverbs 22:7, “The rich rule over the poor, and the borrower is servant to the lender.” Restraint and frugality being the order of the day. (See Hebrews 13:5) A sentiment Bruce Jaffee, professor of business at Indiana Univesity3 certainly agrees with, encouraging whoever will listen to “move back to basic, solid priorities.” Sound advice for his students, their parents, the banking industry and our own government mired down in years of deficit spending.4
Some believe we are borrowing our way out of prosperity, passing on insurmountable debt to our kids and grandkids. But that may not be the worst of it; Paul including greed in a list of damnable sins that could keep us from going to heaven! (1 Corinthians 6:9,10 & Ephesians 5:5) Scripture summing up the attitude we should all have concerning our finances in very simple terms, “Do not wear yourself out to get rich; have the wisdom to show restraint.” Proverbs 23:4
1Mr. Long is the author of several articles on ethics and the economy.
2Lapham’s Quarterly is a New York based website that measures the news of the day against lessons of the past.
3At I.U.’s Kelly School of Business
4Quotes and some information acquired from an Indianapolis Star article by Robert Keys titled, Scholars and Theologians Alike Remind Americans of the Mantra that Seeking Wealth Can Be a Vice.
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