Thursday, October 02, 2008

The Financial Crisis from One Christian's Perspective (Part 2)

The first installment in this series appeared in a shorter form yesterday over at The Moderate Voice, a site to which I've been contributing posts since last November. One of the commenters there said this:
You seem to be blaming all borrowers as if they all knew they would be in trouble with those mortgages. Some of them were not too bright (surprised?) and others too ambitious, hoping they could make it. Some lost their jobs through no fault of their own.
It was never my intention to paint with too broad a brush. My intent, simply, was to say that the greedy lending houses would not have gotten themselves--and the US economy--where they are right now were it not for the success they enjoyed in selling their ephemera to greedy consumers. Not all consumers who are apt to be hurt by this crisis by the time it runs its course were greedy. Not everybody who took out a loan was greedy. But some were. As I said yesterday, "Only those willing to be seduced are seduced."

The question before us is, from a Christian perspective, how do we avoid making bad financial decisions? How do we keep from being willingly seduced by those trying to palm off financial sugar water?

First: Recognize that money is neutral. It's neither bad or good. It's a tool, a means to ends. One of the most misquoted passages of the Bible says:
For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil...(1 Timothy 6:10)
Notice that Paul, the writer of this passage doesn't say that money in itself is evil. He says that the love of it is the problem.

The love Paul describes here is what we might refer to as an addiction, a force at the bottom of a person's every motive and decision. For people like this, money is everything: the scorecard by which they measure their worth, the toy factory, their pleasure-maker.

People who love money make it the central force in their lives. It then supplants all of their relationships, whether with God or with others. It's no wonder then that Jesus says that it's easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than it is for a rich person, who is likelier to have succumbed to the addictive power of money, supplanting God in the person's allegiance, to get into God's kingdom.

Second: Recognize then, that money is a power. This insight was first brought to my attention by Richard Foster in his incredible book, Money, Sex, and Power. As Foster explains there, either we will get control of our money or our money will control us. Often, those with a lot of money think that they are in control. And it is true that in many ways, the wealthy can do more than those with less. No one could deny that.

But I have also seen how wealth allows the wealthy to indulge fantasies of invincibility that come to grief when the normal downs in life that can rock all of us hit them harder than those more attuned to reality through their more modest finances.

I've also seen the wealthy become understandably distrustful of others. The wealthy are often assailed by people who "want a piece of the action." This, in turn, can lead to deep cynicism, which is unhinged from reality, too.

Whether it results of delusions of invincibility or the acid of cynicism, money is a power, an addictive power. When we see it as a tool, a means rather than an end, we are on the road to controlling our finances and the impulse to greed.

Third: Recognize that some people are more adept at making money than others. I have several long-term friendships with people who simply have a facility for generating income and making the right choices on what to do with their money to make it grow. They're shrewd about making money. Shrewdness is not a bad thing.

I'm not financially shrewd. I've never been a money-making machine. Now, I could resent that and I won't say that there haven't been times in my life when I haven't been resentful. But the Bible teaches that each of us has gifts, talents, both natural and supernatural, from God. In his book, The Purpose Driven Life, Pastor Rick Warren, who gives something like 90% of the royalties from his writing to the church, says that the thing for the Church to do with members who have the facility for making money is to encourage them to make more. Christians who make a lot of money, aware that this ability, along with every other good gift, comes from God, will be will be able to use money to support a broad array of church, charitable, and community projects. I agree with him.

Those of us who aren't financially shrewd should, instead of being resentful, use our gifts and abilities to their maximum positive effect.

Fourth: Avoid what the Bible calls covetousness. I hope to say more on what that means, why it's counterproductive, and most importantly, what can be done about it, tomorrow.

No comments: