I recently received a comment in response to a Twitter/Facebook post I made about considering the possibility of buying a rental condo in Costa Rica. (Lately, I’ve been thinking about the importance of diversifying my investments rather than keeping what little money I have in U.S. based mutual funds). The comment went like this:
“hey i may not know you very well or seen you in awhile but dont let the wealth get to your head. Remember its easier for a camal to pass through the eye of a needle than it is for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of god.”
How would you respond to a comment like this? I wasn’t quite sure what to think. Does he see an owner of a condo in Costa Rica as wealthy? (Even when it costs less than an average home in the states?) Was he saying it looks like I’m letting wealth get to my head? Or was it just a friendly reminder of one of Jesus’ teachings? (The commenter recently returned from a mission for the LDS Church).
My first reaction was to get a little defensive, and I wondered whether I should reply at all, or just thank him for this thought. I ended up pointing out that money can be used for good or evil, but it’s possible to have an unhealthy attachment to it. I also asked a few questions to clarify where he was coming from, such as, “Why do you think Jesus taught that it’s difficult for a rich man to get into heaven? How do you define ‘rich’? And how do you define letting wealth ‘get to your head’?” His reply:
Well i think its because money can be the root of all evil. I don’t know exactly why thats can be the case but i think it can. And i think rich is being able to do whatever you want without concern for finances. And i would say letting wealth getting to your head would be letting it be the source of pride. Maybe not all of ones pride but pride nonetheless.
Interesting definitions and interesting topic. In forming my reply, it began to be so long, I thought I’d turn it into a blog post. I didn’t realize I had so much to say on this topic, but I’m grateful for this comment which brought it out of me. Here’s my preachy sermon for the day, in the form of a reply.
The Root of All Evil
Thanks for sharing your thoughts. I found your definitions interesting.
I don’t really know why money would be the root of all evil, either. A lot of people misquote that scripture, though (1 Tim 6:10). It actually doesn’t say that money is the root of all evil. It says that the “love” of money is the root of all evil. Truly, money is not good or bad in itself (the church’s wealth numbers in the billions). It’s a tool that can be used for any purpose. However, I think an unhealthy attachment to money can be detrimental – loving money at the expense of more important things. Although really, when people seek after money, it’s not really money they’re after, is it? It’s what they think the money can bring them – security, material possessions, power, the ability to give more, etc. Is it wrong to seek for things money can buy? Maybe it depends on which things? Maybe only in excess? Maybe only if it’s balanced with charity and giving? Who’s to say?
So I think there is value in considering that perhaps Jesus wasn’t teaching that it’s bad to be wealthy. Certainly many saintly and generous people have been so (including many of today’s church leaders as well as many ancient prophets). Nor is it bad to not have to worry about supporting yourself financially – many inventors, interns, philosophers, missionaries, and monks don’t have to worry about supporting themselves financially, either. This just gives them more time to pursue paths that are meaningful to them. That sounds like a good thing to me.
What would you do if you had total freedom of time and means? You’d probably figure out how you can best use your gifts to make a valuable contribute to the world, right? I believe freedom from money concerns is a worthy goal to strive for, and I believe anyone can reach it. Although it doesn’t take a million dollars to free yourself from worrying about money. All it takes is a change of attitude and not “needing” so much to be happy. So in my opinion, not having to worry about money can’t be what Jesus meant when he referred to being “rich”. He didn’t seem to worry much about it, himself.
Does Wealth Cause Pride?
Perhaps Jesus was referring to pride caused by riches, as you hinted at, although I’m not aware of any Bible verses where Jesus actually taught that pride and wealth are linked. Sure, there are proud rich people, but there are also proud poor people. Does wealth really make a person proud?
It’s said that pride is the universal sin – everyone has it. I have always been very proud, for example, regardless of how much money I was making at the time. lol. Will I get more proud as I earn more money? I will if I spend my time comparing myself to those with less money, and see myself as better than them, or if I refuse to offer help. Maybe we’re more prone to do this when we have more than our neighbor, or as there are more and more people who have less than we do. But seriously, why would simply having more money make you better than someone else? That doesn’t make sense to me.
Here in Latin America, for example, you’d be doing really well to be making $800/month, but the people are just as awesome as anybody in a “wealthy” country like the United States where the median income is much higher. Are you better than them? I actually wonder whether people are more wealthy here in the sense that they seem to enjoy their lives more. But to them, almost anyone from the United States is seen as financially rich. And at the next level, Latinos would be considered rich by starving children in Africa. Wealth is relative. You’re always rich compared to someone else, and the pride factor always exists, regardless of how much you have.
Attachment to Possessions
When Jesus said that it’s difficult for a rich man to enter heaven, he didn’t say why, and we can only speculate as to what he meant. But if you read the story, Jesus had just asked a man to give away all his possessions to the poor. The problem isn’t that the man is rich, but that he’s not willing to give up his possessions. So when Jesus said it’s hard for a rich man to get into heaven, I tend to think that he’s referring more to getting caught up in your possessions, in owning “stuff” (and more of it than your neighbor, which yes, is part of pride), or in clinging to money out of fear, rather than living your life to the fullest and giving of your excess to others.
When you love money more than people, or are so attached to your possessions that you feel you’d die without them, I think that’s unhealthy. If the love of money is the root of all evil (not money itself), then this makes sense. I also wonder if you’d find that attachment more among the poor and middle/working class than among the truly wealthy as you define them, who seem more prone to save and invest rather than spend their money on stuff (which is partly why they’re wealthy), and from my experience, are also usually very generous. But with running water, temperature controlled houses, hospitals, cars, the Internet, and infinite opportunity, we’re all far more wealthy than anyone in Jesus’ day would have ever dreamed. Maybe all of us living today would fit his definition of “rich” – at least those who aren’t starving. Who knows?
I recently sold almost all my possessions to move to Costa Rica for a great adventure with my family. Granted, I didn’t give all the proceeds to the poor, though I did donate a large portion to charity. But I have realized that “stuff” doesn’t make you happy, and I’ve lost my attachment to most of it. Yes, I still haven’t parted with my computer or my clothes (speaking of which, did Jesus really mean for us to become nudists when he asked the man to give away “all” his possessions? Or was he speaking more figuratively?).
I’ve learned that money doesn’t make you happy either, although it certainly can free you to do more with your life than you otherwise could, including helping others. But you could be just as happy being a “poor” garbage man if you love the job and feel it’s your calling in life to help keep the world clean. And I think that would be a life well spent. My point is: don’t rule out having wealth because you think it’s the road to hell. That’s not really scriptural and it goes against common sense. You may even find wealth thrust upon you some day, and realize that it’s a great blessing. I believe that no matter how much you have, the trick is to not be too attached to it.
So, that was my response. What did you think? Yeah, it was preachy. Yes, I’m full of pride. Am I going to heaven? Who knows? But I do feel like I’m doing the best I can with my life right now, trying to make the most of what I’ve been given and trying to make a positive difference in others lives. I’m also very happy, at peace, and am doing what I love. :)
Now it’s your turn. How would you have responded to this comment? How do you view wealth? How do you want to live your life? I’d like to hear all your thoughts.