This morning my wife and I did our daily bible reading and it inspired me to finally write my final blog about the things I’ve learned about money. We are reading through the book of Ecclesiastes and today we read chapter 5. For this entry I really wanted to address the tension that seems to be building around the subject of economic classes. There is a lot of public discussion about the responsibility that high-income earners have in society and I wanted to comment on it. The verses I read this morning seem like the best possible place to start. Here is Ecclesiastes 5:8-20:
Riches Are Meaningless
8 If you see the poor oppressed in a district, and justice and rights denied, do not be surprised at such things; for one official is eyed by a higher one, and over them both are others higher still. 9 The increase from the land is taken by all; the king himself profits from the fields.
10 Whoever loves money never has enough;
whoever loves wealth is never satisfied with their income.
This too is meaningless.
11 As goods increase,
so do those who consume them.
And what benefit are they to the owners
except to feast their eyes on them?
12 The sleep of a laborer is sweet,
whether they eat little or much,
but as for the rich, their abundance
permits them no sleep.
13 I have seen a grievous evil under the sun:
wealth hoarded to the harm of its owners,
14 or wealth lost through some misfortune,
so that when they have children
there is nothing left for them to inherit.
15 Everyone comes naked from their mother’s womb,
and as everyone comes, so they depart.
They take nothing from their toil
that they can carry in their hands.
16 This too is a grievous evil:
As everyone comes, so they depart,
and what do they gain,
since they toil for the wind?
17 All their days they eat in darkness,
with great frustration, affliction and anger.
18 This is what I have observed to be good: that it is appropriate for a person to eat, to drink and to find satisfaction in their toilsome labor under the sun during the few days of life God has given them—for this is their lot. 19 Moreover, when God gives someone wealth and possessions, and the ability to enjoy them, to accept their lot and be happy in their toil—this is a gift of God. 20 They seldom reflect on the days of their life, because God keeps them occupied with gladness of heart.
For me, this was a really helpful excerpt for understanding a biblical stance on wealth. Verses 8-18 have always been second nature for me, but 19 and 20 are more challenging. The key, in my opinion, is separating wealth from a love of money. The bible says the love of money will eat away your soul and most people I know would say they agree. We’ve seen some of our nation’s most wealthy become disgustingly greedy and cause a lot of pain. According to the bible, though, it’s not good enough to just equate wealth with greed. Doing so has led a lot of people to feel a strong sense of guilt over the blessings God has given them. For me, that feeling of guilt comes from the fact that if I spend $50 on dinner for myself, that’s $50 that could have paid for two people to have clean water for the rest of their lives.
I think the bible is telling me that it’s actually ok to enjoy my dinner free from guilt. It’s a gift from God that I am able to afford it and if I feel guilty about it, I’m actually disrespecting God and His gift. That DOES NOT mean I don’t need to do anything about the people without water. The best way to think about it is in terms of ratios. If I budget a percentage of my income to be given to charity, then I will end up giving so much more money throughout my lifetime than if I constantly beat myself up over the money I spend on myself. If I gave 100% of my money throughout all of my life, two things are guaranteed to take place: 1) poverty will still exist when I die and 2) my family will have zero money when I die. It’s common sense if you think about it: we must have money in order to give it away. It’s not surprising that the bible spends much more time speaking about the dangers of greed in this passage, but we can’t ignore the last part where it talks about enjoying the gifts God gives us. It’s ok to go out to eat and buy expensive toys when you are able to afford it. If I have $10 million and I spend $200,000 on a sports car, that’s a very small percentage of my wealth that I have wrapped up in my car. I could still give $1 million to charity which is far more than most people are able to do. We should try to enjoy our wealth without falling in love with it and we should DEFINITELY stop judging other people for their wealth. When we do that the real problem isn’t greed, it’s envy.