Preserve and Provide

In Writing in the Margins, Lisa Nichol Hickmans shares a prompt based on Florence Nightingale’s margin notes:

Florence Nightingale finds an insight into her vocation next to Genesis 45:5, where she wrote, “God did send me to preserve life.”  What insight about your particular calling would you like to write in your margin?

As I thought about my vocation (preserving wealth), I found I had a hard time putting the words “Preserve wealth” in my Bible—yet that’s what I do for a living.

This caused a long reflection on prosperity, riches, and money (sorry!)

Throughout the Old Testament God promises the Hebrews prosperity if they walk in obedience to what God commanded.  And much of what God commands lays the foundation for a prosperous society.  Consider some of the basic laws:  do not murder, do not steal, honor your mother and father, keep your marriage promises (pardon the paraphrase; usually when I talk about the Ten Commandments it is to four-year-olds, and its just not easy to explain the word adultery to little ones, but they do understand what it means to keep promises!), and don’t bear false witnesses about things these things.  When these laws are followed in society, we are blessed by safety, property rights, and provision for the old and the young.  We are given the basis for a judicial system, which requires honest witness.

Then you get the New Testament and there’s a subtle shift.  The rules are simpler:  Love God with all your heart and soul and mind and love your neighbor as yourself.  The promise that God gives in return is simplified, too.  The word prosperity is found rarely in the New Testament, but there are many, many assurances that our needs will be met abundantly.

There’s no getting around it:  Money is often portrayed in an extremely negative light in the New Testament.  Jesus says it’s harder for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God, and St. Paul tells us “love of money” is the root of all kinds of evils.  Melville (still on my mind) shares this gem:

But being paid,—what will compare with it? The urbane activity with which a man receives money is really marvelous, considering that we so earnestly believe money to be the root of all earthly Ills, and that on no account can a monied man enter heaven. Ah! how cheerfully we consign ourselves to perdition!

Why is there such a negative view of money in the New Testament?  I think a lot of it comes down to not only what Jesus taught, but how he died.  Most scholars believe that the event that led to the crucifixion was the cleansing of the temple.  Jesus was angry at the money changers essentially for getting between people and their experience of God at the temple.  We understand as Christians that Jesus died for our sins, but the practical truth is that Jesus died because he wanted to drive the money changers out of the temple.  What Jesus died to say:  Money can’t buy access to God—NOTHING can get between us and the love of God.

It is nearly impossible to reconcile the conflicting views about money in the Bible.  If you talk with other Christians you find people fall into one of two camps:  “the work hard and obey God and you will prosper” crowd and “the stay as far away as possible from the love of money” crowd.  So I’ve always found myself in a strange place with money:  On the one hand I work hard and I help people manage their money so that it will be there for their future needs.  On the other hand, I always have Christ’s words ringing in my ears when I think of money personally.  I absolutely trust and believe that my needs will be met but I somehow hold this belief without regard to whether I have money or not (a lesson I learned in lean times).  Lately, I’ve been feeling a need to move beyond the tensions inherent in my beliefs about money!

A better way?

The more I think about this subject, the deeper my conviction:  coming to a positive, balanced understanding of money is worthwhile and important.  When you consider the times that Jesus praised the use of money, it was in response to individuals giving generously and personally–they obeyed the generous impulse!  He encouraged the use of money as a way of blessing others.  The good Samaritan is one example, which I wrote about in an earlier post.  There is also the time that Jesus defends the woman who poured costly ointment on his head; his disciples called it waste, but he promises her generous act will be remembered for all time.  Money is just one way that God blesses us and we can bless others.  Every time we pay a fair price for a good or service we bless those who gave their time to make the good or provide the service and we are blessed in return.  When we have the opportunity to use our money to make the way easier for others or bless others in a tangible way, we honor God:  “Every good and perfect gift is form above.”  Thinking of money as a blessing eliminates so many of the ways that people get money wrong.  If you choose to bless others with your money exchanges, you won’t cheat them or hurt them or try to sell them something that can’t be sold.  If you accept that money is a blessing to you, then you are thankful to the source of blessings (Praise God, from whom all blessings flow!) and you don’t put your faith in money.  You won’t be overly anxious about money either.  (What this means for me professionally:  Stay focused on the right course of action to provide for long-term financial needs without worrying excessively about day-to-day swings in the market.)  I feel like my understanding of money is moving in a healthy direction.

Here’s what found its way to my margins…Joseph is a Biblical character I’ve always deeply admired!

Joseph-The first economic forecaster.  He helped people save during good years to provide for the hard years.  He was a faithful and trusted advisor and yet a dreamer who was able to show love and emotion.  He forgave easily and had faith in God’s providence.

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