Summary: If our relationship with God is all right, then our relationship with money cannot be wrong. The Bible does not tell us that money is evil and that all debt is sin. What the Bible teaches us is to be balanced in everything we do.
Christians often have a wrong relationship to money. For some, money is a source of evil and getting rich is under suspicion, especially when most of us try to live an honest life, paying our ?dues? to Caesar, and not much is left. For others, prosperity theology advocates exactly the opposite: when you are faithful, God will bless you with material things. Material wealth, they say, is irrevocably linked and is a sign of mature and growing faith. To be otherwise is a sign of spiritual weakness. We may wonder if the 1.2 billion people who live on $1 a day are without faith.
When Malachi 3:10 is quoted, it nearly always is used for making a strong connection between our faithfulness and the material blessings God promises to give. Since we have quite a number of poor in our church, don’t we make God a liar by explaining it this way? Aren’t we actually limiting God’s blessings to the material arena?
Religion and narcissism
The Prayer of Jabez, by Bruce Wilkinson, appears to reinforce this ambiguity. When Jabez prayed, ?enlarge my territory,? according to the author, he meant material things (p. 31). In contrast, Jesus taught us to ask for our daily bread. It is no wonder that a New York Times review of May 8, 2001 quoted Dr. Jeffrey Mahan, Professor of Ministry at Iliff School of Theology in Denver, as saying, ?It fits with the narcissism of the age. Religious life is focused on me and my needs.? And our prayers are reflecting the same egotistic thoughts.
Mother Teresa used to say that God does not call us to success, but to faithfulness. It is true, but is it enough? A Lebanese Christian, recently interviewed on the radio, said: ?At the beginning, Christianity was about relationship, when it went to Greece it became a religion, when it went to Rome it became an organization, when it went to Europe it became cultural, when it went to North America it became commercial. It is high time to go back to what it was in the Middle East.?
Relationship, the core
Our Lebanese friend goes to the core of our Christian experience: the relationship. If our relationship with God is OK, then our relationship with money cannot be wrong. To his dismay, the rich young ruler failed the acid test of relationship, even though he had kept the commandments from youth. What a tragedy; to do all the good things for the wrong reason!
Psychologists tell us that people think more about money than sex. Saunders, an Australian researcher, found that there is a positive correlation between materialism and depression, anxiety and anger. Material things may give a person a sense of control, but materialism is negatively correlated to life satisfaction. In today’s culture, it is difficult to accept the fact that money is just a commodity. It simply replaces shells that were once used for currency, and later, paper currency, before trade began.
Addiction to money
The problem with money is that it can become addictive. Today, everything is converted into numbers: the cost of 9/11, the delayed departures of space shuttles, the number of highway accidents due to alcoholism, et cetera. So-called born again Christians are forecasting an economic Armageddon because of government debt and are giving counsel on how to invest in Treasury bonds rather than in Wall Street. Treasury bonds are supposed to be more secure in protecting our assets for the future. In reading the Scriptures, these brothers and sisters have probably forgotten Matthew 6, where Jesus tells us that only pagans worry about their economic future.
Neither approach is biblical. The Bible does not tell us that money is evil and that all debt is sin. What the Bible teaches us is to be balanced in everything we do. During the Creation in Eden, it was God, not humanity, who determined what was good and what was evil.
Abraham, who let Lot take the best land (Gn 13:9-12), Jesus, who did not have a place to lay His head (Lk 9:58), and Paul, who worked all through his ministry (1Cor 4:12), would have failed by today’s standard. It is up to us to decide who best models what we want to follow in life: The investment czar of Wall Street, or the examples we have noted from the Bible?