Thursday, October 20, 2011

Is Wealth Inherently Evil?

Whether from “Occupy Wall Street” or from the blogs of some Christian writers or from certain books addressing poverty, I repeatedly hear the message sometimes implied and sometimes directly that “wealth is evil”. Is this true?

The answer is a resounding, “Absolutely not!” Unlike pornography, which is inherently evil, money itself has no moral value, positive or negative. Our attitudes toward wealth can become problematic. The tendency of those with wealth is to think they are self sufficient (i.e., no need for God), to use their wealth as power, and to be selfish. But the problem lies in the person, not the wealth. And it’s a tendency, not an absolute truth.

                 Want some biblical examples that support wealth is not necessarily bad?
Abraham was “very rich in livestock, in silver and in gold” (Gen. 13:2). Never is he chastised or criticized in Scripture for being wealthy.
God reminds Israel that it is He Himself "who is giving you the power to make wealth” (Deut. 8:18).
Hannah, in her prayer of dedication of Samuel, acknowledges, “The LORD makes poor and rich; He brings low, He also exalts” (1 Sam. 2:7)
The Psalmist says of the man who fears the LORD, “wealth and riches are in his house” (Ps. 112:3).
Proverbs applauds the reward of labor when it says “Poor is he who works with a negligent hand, but the hand of the diligent makes rich” (Prov. 10:4) and “Wealth obtained by fraud dwindles, but the one who gathers by labor increases it” (Prov. 13:11).
Proverbs also affirms the benefit of ownership and wealth, “House and wealth are an inheritance from fathers” (Prov. 19:4a).
Solomon concludes “Furthermore, as for every man to whom God has given riches and wealth, he has also empowered him to eat from them and to receive his reward and rejoice in his labor; this is the gift of God” (Eccl. 5:19).
And Paul addresses attitude, not wealth itself, when he tells Timothy to “Instruct those who are rich in this present world not to be conceited or to fix their hope on the uncertainty of riches, but on God, who richly supplies us with all things to enjoy. Instruct them to do good, to be rich in good works, to be generous and ready to share” (1 Ti. 6:17-18).
Now, having said this, do I believe “all is fair in love and making money”?
Absolutely not.
Wealth obtained fraudulently, by theft, by other illegal activity, or by some sort of human rights abuse (and I mean real human rights abuse, like slavery or sex trafficking) is, as Hawkeye Pierce put it, “ill-gotten booty” (stealing a line from the TV show MASH, although I have no idea which episode!). As the Proverbs say, “Wealth obtained by fraud dwindles…” (13:11) and “He who oppresses the poor to make more for himself or who gives to the rich will only come to poverty”.
I acknowledge the Scriptures contain multiple warnings about the danger of riches, especially the danger of feeling self-sufficient and the danger of oppressing the poor. But the warnings apply to attitudes about wealth, not the wealth itself (1 Tim. 6:9).
So, if we are among the wealthy, what should we do?
Be generous. Give to legitimate needs. Generously.
Be helpful to those who need help (such as the poor), which does not mean “just throw money at the problem”. (Read When Helping Hurts by S. Corbett and B. Fikkert to see one paradigm about how to really help. What we should do depends on the circumstances of the one who needs help. You won’t agree with everything they say, but that’s okay.)
Be careful. Trust in God, not in our own abilities and what we own.
Be careful (part 2). Avoid using credit debt, and if we already in it, get out! Some of us have built so much debt we have functionally lost access to our resources so we cannot be generous (i.e., we pay the bills and have too little left).
Be fair and just to those who work for you.
Be kingdom focused. That doesn’t mean we stop working here to build wealth; it means thinking differently about how to use our wealth. As David Platt says, “Why not begin operating under the idea that God has given us excess, not so we could have more, but so we could give more?” (Radical, 127, emphasis his). Enjoy what God gives (Eccl. 5:19, 1 Tim. 6:17b), but limit our lifestyle so we have the freedom to be generous.
No one is entitled to the wealth of the rich. That’s called “welfare” or, in its more serious forms, “socialism”. Interestingly, when we hear “rich” we usually think, incorrectly, it means “someone with more than I have”. Compare what you make with the rest of our culture… and then the rest of the world. Many of us - a high percentage of Americans - are rich but we don’t think we are! We are fooled. We want to point at the 1% forgetting that many of the 99% is still rich! Those of us with resources should choose to give generously; which is something much different than someone taking our resources and redistributing them for us.
Wealth isn’t bad; greed and selfishness are. Be generous with what God has given you.

1 comment:

  1. Roger,

    Great post here. You raised some excellent points on the discussion. Wealth is not inherently evil but what we do with it can be.

    What also concerns me is the group of "health and wealth prosperity" preachers who preach a gospel of wealth. Some believe if we are not wealthy then we do not have enough faith and are not experiencing God's blessings. I think that there are a number of extremes propagating out there.