The combination of election-year speechmaking and economic uncertainty pushes money matters to the forefront of most Americans' consciousness, and Christians are no different. But money is really just a tool, a shorthand way of trading something we have for something we want. Why does it cause so many problems for our lives of faith?
Probably for the same reason other things can cause problems for
lives of faith -- a tendency to push God out of the center of those
lives and replace him with something else. In this case, with money. Its
value as a tool makes it very easy to rely on it for things that
Christian people are supposed to leave to God to provide, most
especially our satisfaction and our security in life.
At least in the U.S., we're very often told that our satisfaction
depends on the purchase of new, bigger and better stuff. Some of the
housing market slump in recent years came from people who shouldn't have
been lent any money at all, but some also comes from people who
borrowed more than they could afford in order to get a bigger house than
they needed or one in a nicer, pricier neighborhood. In a race to have
the latest gadgets, the "right" kind of car and so on, people spend
almost everything they make and in some cases more. They do this because
many of us have become convinced that the purchase of any or all of
those things will somehow satisfy us and make our lives good.
But when money gets tight and economic conditions iffy, we may
find ourselves unable to afford those extras that we have come to depend
on to fufill us, which leaves us feeling dissatisfied about our lives.
Even more, it can leave us wondering if we can afford the basics of
life anymore, and that creates more worry.
In that sense, money is like any other idol we create -- it will
let us down at some point. It can't take God's place because it isn't
The biblical view of satisfaction and security rests it on
something entirely different -- obedience to God and generosity of
giving, a little like what Psalm 112 describes. When I was reflecting on
this idea, I wondered a little bit about why generosity can do so much
more to offer us peace, satisfaction and security than the idea of acquiring
I think one reason is that we become much more aware of what we
have whenever we give to someone who has less. The Occupy protests last
fall often referred to the "one percent," meaning the wealthiest
Americans, but anyone who knows anything about the world outside our
borders knows just by being born in the U.S. people are already well on
their way to being a part of the world's one percent. People below the
official poverty line in the U.S. own television sets, cell phones, cars
and even homes that only the richest people in many third world
If we are people of any empathy at all, we
have to step back from our complaints when we hear about the lives of
others with so much less and reflect on what we do have. And it
seems very often that unless it's being said to that strange aunt who
bought you socks for Christmas, the phrase "Thank you" brings a lot more
joy than does a concern about what to buy.
And another, I think, is that generosity costs so much less. Ask
someone how much money they would have to have in order to feel safe or
secure about the future. Even 20 years ago they might have said "a
million dollars." Today, that amount would be a lot higher. You might be
OK with a billion dollars, if only because you could buy a big boat to
live on and sail away with your money if things got strange.
local mega-discount-grocery story has an off-brand of cereal that sells
for a dollar a box. Now five dollars wouldn't make anyone feel safe
about the next five minutes and would barely pick up a gallon and a half
of gasoline. But it would provide a week's worth of breakfasts for a
family if it was used to buy cereal that was donated to a food pantry.
The Bible doesn't say there's anything wrong with money, because
when it's used properly there isn't anything wrong with money. It
only becomes a stumbling block in our faith lives when we try to make
it something it's not -- a foundation for our safety and security.