(I probably should write a whole series of posts with this title. I think I won’t, but even from this humble blog, the observations skipped are more than those analyzed.)
I want to consider money for a moment in two different categories: 1) Money, in God’s hands and 2) Money, in our hands.
Have you ever considered a downwardly mobile lifestyle?
To be honest, I never had consciously considered the notion until I read Walsh and Keesmaat’s book Colossians Remixed. I gave away two or three copies of that book over the years, and so I don’t currently possess one or else I would quote and cite them. As it is, I will just mention that until I read their book, I never consciously considered downward mobility as a purposeful lifestyle option.
I think that is the way of greed in our world and in the modern church. It is so thoroughly accepted as good (except maybe for the most hardcore expressions of it) that it gets a pass – even more so that porn. (Oh yeah. Ever stand there in the checkout line eyeing the “swimsuit” issue with the hot vixen “wearing” a painted on swimsuit? Yeah, as a red-blooded, American male who just happens to be Christian, I content myself with the notion that looking at that, pondering it very carefully, as I am apt to do, is not looking at porn at all. But I would find something wrong with a hardcore porn magazine on that rack.)
Yeah, I grew up thinking it was only natural and right, really, as an American especially, to make money and “get ahead.” My grandparents had created a much better financial situation for themselves than their parents, my parents had exceeded my grandparents, and it only seemed natural that I would exceed my parents too. I even anticipated my kids would exceed me. This wasn’t greed. This was just “God bless America.”
I just didn’t ever question it.
Then I read Walsh and Keesmaat.
Then not only did I question just how “natural” and “God blessed” all this was, but I began to see greed in it. This seemed to be “the American way,” but it surely didn’t seem to be the “The Way” of Scripture, of Jesus, of God and God’s will. It wasn’t panning out like this for the rest of God’s creation.
This brings me to a good place at which to transition into that first category I mention above: Money, in God’s hands.
My analysis here is in no way exhaustive. I don’t even know if I am picking the best representative bits of Bible to analyze this stuff with, but I figure on the blog… we need to start somewhere. This is as good as any… to get the discussion started.
So… the rest of God’s creation.
Well, that has me thinking about when God created it. I don’t think we modern people of faith give enough, or even any, thought to the fact that in six days of creation, God does not create a single dime. No dollars, no dimes, no pennies. No Denarii. No money.
The very earliest currencies that human cultures used were largely based on salt. I am guessing it was just straight up bartering before that. I am not an expert historian, but the studies I have done in the past give me this general idea. Point being, God didn’t make this stuff we call cash, and therefore money does not, in fact, make the world go round – contrary to popular wisdom, I think.
Fallen humans invented this stuff. Fallen humans stockpile it. And if you really, REALLY, really think about it, greed is about fear. There won’t be enough to go around and/or the haves won’t share it with me.
There is more to it, but when reduced down to its bare essence, greed is about fearing the need.
God, of course, will supply the need. (Matthew 6:19-34 anyone?) This, of course, is not a direct attack on wealth itself, per se, but you have to be nuts to not see how greed and wealth go together like a hand in a glove. They are like smoke and fire – almost. The instances of wealth without greed are exceptional. But of course the converse is true; you don’t actually have to be wealthy to be greedy. But we seriously need to stop excusing our greed willy-nilly based merely on the fact that there is a distinction between wealth and greed. We have been driving big rig trucks and freight trains through the eye of a needle for all we are worth doing that, and yet just common sense (when sobered up) a bit, makes this quite plain to see.
However, most people of the modern world have little or no appreciation for the fact that from the earliest times, money – coinage – also carried “images” on it. We still do this today also. But in ancient times, money was the only place you would likely see an “image” except among the super wealthy or in pagan temples. And, of course, graven images are prohibited with God.
Already, I can sense my American readers driving trucks and trains through the eye of this needle too. Graven images are not the same thing as greed, but in the ancient world they went together hand in hand, and we may as well see them that way now too. This likely plays a role as at least one important feature in the exchange Jesus has in the temple when his interlocuters attempt to trap him in a statement about paying tax to Caesar or not.
Go look up that story and refresh yourself, if you need to (Mark 12:13-17). Notice that Jesus isn’t carrying this blasphemous currency around in his pocket, and so as the Pharisees and Herodians attempt to lay out their little trap, he forces them to produce one of these coins. (Apparently, they have some of it in their pockets, and so as Jesus ascertains one from them in front of the crowds, they are already getting caught in their own trap.) And immediately, Jesus turns the question/discussion around to that “image” imprinted on the coin.
Oh, yes. There are other dimensions to this than just “give to Caesar what is Caesar’s.” These idiots are losing at least two arguments with their little trap, if not more. But that is all the more I need to bring up for our purposes here.
Jesus, who is “the image of the invisible God” (Col. 1:15), is talking about the “image” on the coinage AND demonstrating that he doesn’t have any of that filthy lucre in his pockets. Jesus who is God incarnate doesn’t keep the stuff on hand. It’s also worth giving passing mention to the fact that one chapter before these Pharisees and Herodians lay their trap, Jesus cleared out the temple by turning tables of the money-changers. It seems Jesus just doesn’t have the same soft spot for money as we modern Americans do.
So, God never made this blasphemous stuff to begin with, and Jesus, God’s perfect representation on earth, doesn’t have any, criticizes it at existential levels, and encourages his disciples to trust God rather than wealth anyway.
The only place I can think of in the Old Testament where God seems to be collecting wealth is with the tithe (Deut. 14). God makes provision for those traveling long distances to convert their assets into cash in order to make traveling more manageable. The cash there is a concession of sorts. But I have Tony Campolo to thank for drawing my eye to the rest of that chapter where we notice how this massive pile of wealth is disposed of.
Yes, one tenth of the gross national product of Israel is brought in sacrificial tithe to God, and every three years it is used to throw a giant party where the guests of honor are the widows, orphans, and sojourners (the poor, basically), thus it in no way gets invested for grand and greedy, capitalist schemes. No. It all goes up in party flames shared with the poor and needy.
That is a quick breeze through Money, in God’s hands.
Let us now turn to Money, in our hands.
At this point, I must take care not to suggest that having money in your hand or in your pocket is somehow inherently wrong. Based on what I have said thus far, it seems like the proverbial dominoes are stacked up to fall in that direction, alright, but stacked up to fall and falling are not exactly the same thing. I don’t want to start driving trucks and trains through this narrow gap, but I cannot join what I don’t find joined by God either. I notice that, if no where else, at least St. Paul raises a collection among the churches. I presume, until someone produces credible research demonstrating otherwise, that such money was good, right, and holy – if sanctified first.
Actually, I expect that as the psalmist and prophets of old describe the nations bringing tribute to Zion (Ps 68; Isa. 60; Zech. 14 for instance), St. Paul’s collection fulfills such future hopes of the Old Testament. If this is the case, then it appears we have money placed in God’s hands alright, but it is in that willing, worshipful tribute of the whole world offering her treasures to the Creator.
This is money in God’s hands, so to speak, filtered through the Christians. And I did entitle this post, “CHRISTIAN MONEY.”
(I’m sorry, but I just gotta say it:)
WHAT’S IN YOUR WALLET???
(Okay. That was fun. Now back to the serious post.)
Yes, the Christians, as we find them in Jerusalem according to Acts 2 and 4, are selling their wealth off, giving the money to the church, and the church is redistributing the wealth in such a way that no one has need. (Yes, this is godly communism (as opposed to godless communism), and it’s in the Bible! It’s in the church!)
I can’t help but think of that passage in Mark 10 where the rich man asked Jesus how he might inherit eternal life, and after some discussion, was directed to sell all he owned, give it to the poor, count his treasures in heaven, and come follow Jesus. It appears that meal Jesus shares with Zacchaeus leads to a very similar place (Luke 19), because after they eat together, Zac says he will give half of his wealth to the poor and pay restitution for his greedy sins on the order of four times what he took! (That would leave Zac wiped out!)
You see, I didn’t give much thought to downward mobility over the course of my American life because I haven’t really considered these things very carefully – certainly not without a lot of American style distraction.
Yes, in Luke 4, Jesus announces that his whole mission is about launching the long awaited, never fully realized Jubilee! In his kingdom, all boats rise together when all knees bow together. There is no need for greed in that abundant life. It’s not even an addendum we gladly overlook as part of our American experience as Christians.
No. Your upward mobility was always meant to serve God. Is it your money? Or his? If it isn’t sanctified and made holy for him, then it is obscuring your image as an image bearer. That filthy lucre in your pocket is deforming the image of God in you, and taking away from the abundant life God has for all of his creation.
I am thinking us modern, American Christians need to rethink Christian money. When we do, we will have some devastating questions, I think, for Steve Corbett, Brian Fikkert, Robert Lupton, and Dave Ramsey – among others.