Thursday, August 11, 2016

Righteousness and Riches as Gifts of God

Both righteousness and riches are gifts. Old Testament writers speak about the challenge of money. They tell us, for example, about Abraham, Job, and Solomon. These three men were unusual: they enjoyed a right relationship with Yahweh and they were rich. Both the relationship and the riches, however, were gifts of Yahweh. These three men did not earn either gift by being good or working hard.
Righteousness and riches are not tied together. Yahweh maintained Job’s right relationship with him even during a painful period of time following Job’s sudden loss of all his wealth.

Worshipers of Pluto, false god of money, believe that one’s wealth is a measure of one’s virtue. If one is wealthy, then one is virtuous: smart, good, and hard-working. If one is or becomes poor, then one is vicious: stupid, evil, lazy, and stubborn. This, in fact, was the understanding of Job’s friends.
The story of Job reveals that this way of thinking is false. During Job’s entire life, he enjoyed a right relationship with Yahweh. At the same time, he was very wealthy, suddenly became extremely poor, then just as unexpectedly became wealthier than ever. None of this had anything to do with Job’s relationship with Yahweh. Job remained righteous even though his riches came and went.
Yahweh is free to give and take away riches as he pleases. Hannah was a woman whom Yahweh freely chose in love to bless with a son. In a prayer of thanksgiving, she declared that Yahweh “‘makes some people poor and others rich, he humbles some and makes others great’” (1 Samuel 2:7, Good News Translation, here and following).
We affirm a right relationship with Yahweh when we affirm his free decisions regarding our wealth. As Jacques Ellul observes in Money and Power (trans. LaVonne Neff, 1984), “[t]his recognition is the beginning of a right attitude toward wealth” (p. 43). David himself affirmed this after gathering together all the fabulous wealth in gold, cedar, and other precious commodities needed to build the only temple in the world to be dedicated to Yahweh. “‘O [Yahweh], our God, we have brought together all this wealth to build a temple to honor your holy name, but it all came from you and all belongs to you’” (1 Chronicles 29:16). “Thus, even when wealth seems to be entirely the fruit of [43] human labor, God asks for the same recognition of his sovereignty” (43-44).
Many other Old Testament witnesses affirm this same point of view. “If God gives us wealth and property and lets us enjoy them, we should be grateful and enjoy what we have worked for. It is a gift from God” (Ecclesiastes 5:19). Or again, through his prophet Hosea, Yahweh complained that Israel “would never acknowledge that I am the one who gave her the grain, the wine, the olive oil, and all the silver and gold that she used in the worship of Baal” (Hosea 2:8). Baal was the Canaanite version of Jupiter (god of politics).
Whenever we reject Yahweh’s freedom regarding the wealth he has given us, we automatically become the slaves of Pluto and, behind him, Satan. Our Olympian culture is dedicated to the six false yet conventional gods of Olympus: (1) Jupiter, god of politics; (2) Mars, god of war; (3) Vulcan, god of technology; (4) Venus, goddess of sex; (5) Pluto, god of money; and (6) Bacchus, god of consumption. Through its corporate media, it incessantly tells us that there is no Yahweh. It ceaselessly assures us that money is a neutral medium of exchange and that we alone choose how to earn and use it whether for good or ill.
From a biblical point of view, these are lies. To begin with, Yahweh is alive and well and it is rather our existence that he must sustain against the parasitism of the Olympian gods lest we lose it altogether. Secondly, “if in the New Testament riches are a part of Satan’s kingdom, it is because the chosen people stopped recognizing God’s glory in the form of wealth and started thinking of wealth as valuable in itself. Thus they gave it to Satan to dispose of from then on. But Jesus Christ, who alone knows the truth, refuses to accept wealth from this supposed new master” (44).
We become hypocrites when we confuse being wealthy with having a right relationship with Yahweh. Hypocrisy is commonly understood to mean being evil but pretending to be good. Biblical witnesses, however, understand hypocrisy to mean thinking of oneself as good while in truth being evil. This happens when we outwardly conform to a biblically-based moral code but lack a right relationship with Yahweh. Hypocrisy lies in the separation “between our outer actions, which make us believe we are righteous, and our inner revolt, which makes us refuse God’s righteousness” (45).
We do best when we pray to be spared both poverty and riches. That is our best protection against bondage to Pluto. “[L]et me be neither rich nor poor. So give me only as much food as I need. If I have more, I might say that I do not need you. But if I am poor, I might steal and bring disgrace on my God” (Proverbs 30:8). So we are not to focus on getting rich. We are not to work hard to become so. We are not even to pray for riches. We need only work and ask God for what we need to get by—our daily bread, as Jesus put it (Matthew 6:11). We need only focus on witnessing to the presence of God’s kingdom and God will take care of our needs (Matthew 6:33).
The dangers of individual and group wealth are the same. We may be individually poor but live in a rich society. Pluto can strengthen our Olympian personality and weaken our Christian one either way.

Copyright © 2016 by Steven Farsaci. All rights reserved.