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Health and Wealth Gospel: Part 4

March 1, 2013

Bob was a simple farmer living during a time of inflation and drought. He prayed for it to rain, but the only thing that fell from the sky was the worthless paper dollars that the government kept on printing. This is a photo of him raising his hands in despair, knowing that his potato crop will whither and die because money, not rain, is falling from the sky.

In our last post, we looked at the ways that money can be used in negative and sinful ways. There are a lot of ways that money can become a temptation–not for nothing did Jesus call love of money “the root of all evil”–and the topic could be explored in much greater detail. Today, however, I would like to focus on the positive aspects of money, and how we can use it in God-glorifying ways.

Much of our problems relating to money come from an improper view of money. We like to think of money as a specific “thing” that we can accumulate, whereas the truth is that money is just a tool used to make exchanging goods and services more convenient. It might even be true to say that money has no value. What we use as money–gold coins and green paper–is essentially arbitrary. We could use narwhal tusks and dried pinecones as money if we wanted to, but for the fact that one is too rare, the other too abundant, and both would be devilishly hard to fit into your wallet. This is why the “Wall Street Is About To Throttle Itself! Buy Gold!” crowd is dead wrong. If the economy tanks, then a fifth of whiskey, a pair of jeans or some tomato seeds would be far more useful than twenty gold bars buried in your backyard. Unless the post-apocalyptic future is going to be peopled with aspiring Dirty South rappers, gold will be mostly useless in a crisis.

“If you want a picture of the future, imagine a beat stamping on a human face — forever.”

Money, then, is not a “thing” in itself, but a tool for buying things. Knowing this frees us from the desire of pursuing mere money. However, we need to avoid pursuing mere things as well. The purpose of possessions is not to be owned, but to be enjoyed. It is better to ride in a beat-up Honda Accord with your friends than in a brand new Bentley alone. If we can free ourselves from the desire for mere possessions and focus on actually enjoying what we have, we will have liberated ourselves from one of the great traps of modern America.

The Bible has quite a lot to say about money, and much of what it has to say is interesting. One of the most interesting things that Jesus says about money is in his discussion with the Pharisees over taxes.  St. Mark writes,

Then they sent some of the Pharisees and Herodians to Him in order to trap Him in a statement. They came and said to Him, “Teacher, we know that You are truthful and defer to no one; for You are not partial to any, but teach the way of God in truth. Is it lawful to pay a poll-tax to Caesar, or not? “Shall we pay or shall we not pay?” But He, knowing their hypocrisy, said to them, “Why are you testing Me? Bring Me a denarius to look at.” They brought one. And He said to them, “Whose likeness and inscription is this?” And they said to Him, “Caesar’s.” And Jesus said to them, “Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.” And they were amazed at Him. (Mark 12:13-17)

Clearly, Jesus is not a Ron Paul-style anarcho-capitalist seething at the thought of a government taking money from some hardworking CEOs in order to build a road. Nor is he a proto-community organizer who relishes the idea of economic equality created by force. Jesus’ position on taxes is simple–pay them. Taxes aren’t important to the Kingdom of Heaven. God is not wringing his hands over Obamacare. In this case, money is just a tool to use in order not to offend the authorities. Jesus is not against civil disobedience, but he doesn’t think that avoiding paying your taxes is the right way to fight the system.

Sorry, Thoreau–You’re Not Worthy

Another one of my favorite sayings of Jesus is, “And I say to you, make friends for yourselves by means of the wealth of unrighteousness, so that when it fails, they will receive you into the eternal dwellings.” (Luke 16:9) This comes after the bizarre story of the unrighteous steward, a story that always strikes me as not sounding “Christlike.” Jesus’ command to use money to make friends strikes us as not holy enough. It is hard to imagine it coming out of the mouth of the effeminate Aryan Jesus, and certainly Gandhi was disagree. We have been so conditioned by pietism that we automatically fall into the trap of thinking that money is bad. This is understandable, as it is a reaction to consumerism, but it is not right. In Jesus’ eyes, the best thing you can do with your money, apart from giving it to the poor, is to spend it on your friends. When we use money in order to build relationships, we end up valuing the relationships more than the money. Since money is only a tool, we can rightfully use it to facilitate shared experiences.

The last teaching of Jesus that I will share with you comes also comes from Mark 12. (Which is a pretty solid chapter.)

And He sat down opposite the treasury, and began observing how the people were putting money into the treasury; and many rich people were putting in large sums. A poor widow came and put in two small copper coins, which amount to a cent. Calling His disciples to Him, He said to them, “Truly I say to you, this poor widow put in more than all the contributors to the treasury; for they all put in out of their surplus, but she, out of her poverty, put in all she owned, all she had to live on.”

Oftentimes, when it comes time to give, we say to ourselves “I don’t have enough.” At least, that is what I do. It is easy to say that we trust God to provide for us, but often we try to rely on our own, autonomous selves instead of his grace. Because we are afraid of failing, of being away from our precious possessions and security, we do not give of our own abundance to those who need it. This teaching of Jesus reminds us all of our imperative to give to others.

Current Listenings: What Are You Afraid Of? by Kevin Marble, “Intermission” by Arcade Fire, “Fake Empire” by the National

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