Wednesday, November 14, 2007

The Potential Poverty of Affluence

I walked into my local bank the other day to make a deposit when I caught a conversation taking place across from me.  As I tried to calculate how much my net deposit was going to be, a man who worked as a home builder began encouraging a bank employee to buy one of his homes.  "Those homes y'all are making are beautiful," said the bank employee on the way to his office.  The homebuilder looked up and responded confidently, "We've got one for you...I'm telling you, your kids will grow up smarter, straighter, and better."  The bank employee laughed, and so did I, but the homebuilder had a sense of solemnity about him.  It was as if he had pitched that line to so many potential buyers that he actually began to believe it.

After I left the bank, I couldn't help but laugh aloud at the homebuilder's statement.  "That is not true at all," I said in the privacy of my car, wishing I had voiced my opinion four minutes earlier.  Now, I recognize the guy was probably only half-serious, but a half-truth is still half-false.  In my experience, having grown up in a wealthy, white suburban paradise, money can cause more problems than it can solve.  Given the right, or wrong, mindset and the right, or wrong, amount of money, lives can be destroyed by excessive affluence.  Need I quote Notorious B.I.G. in saying, "Mo' money, mo' problems"?

As I write, my heart is heavy for a friend of mine about whom I just found out is deep into narcotics.  This guy has all the right ingredients for an American dream: his own car, a degree from a prestigious university, and money.  However,  his growing up in a rich neighborhood with parents who gave him everything didn't prove to make him "smarter, straighter, or better."  Sadly, he is not alone in the world of wasted, wealthy lives (see Laguna Beach on MTV).  What is truly confounding, I must admit, is that I have friends who have grown up in a similarly affluent environment and have made much of themselves.  What is the difference?  Is it their parents?  Is it a devoted life to Jesus?  I'm not sure there is a hard and fast rule for how and why a kid turns out the way he/she does.  

What I can say, from my experience and with confidence, is that "the love of money is a root of all sorts of evil" (1 Tim. 6:10).  As it has been pointed out for me, Paul rails against the LOVE of money, not simply money.  There is nothing  inherently evil about money, but there is something inherently evil in all of us: discontentment.  Being discontent with how much money we have, or the car we drive, or the ipod we own leads us into "temptation and a snare and many foolish and harmful desires which plunge men into ruin and destruction" (v. 9).  I have observed discontentment breed depression because nothing is ever enough and we soon realize how unsatisfying "money" and "things" can be.  So what's the solution?  Sell off everything we own?  I don't think so.

Paul encourages us to "learn contentment" (Phil. 4:11) in everything so that we might find joy.  This journey to joy must begin by being discontent with the world around us, thus causing us to seek what is beyond ourselves.  Jesus teaches us to be discontent with this "present, evil age" so that we might find contentment in Him!  Thus, we can preach the good news of a Kingdom that is not poisoned by the poverty of affluence (or poverty in general) but is rich in the poverty of a crucified King.  Our liberation from the chains of physical and emotional poverty comes from embracing our own spiritual poverty so that "by [Jesus'] poverty [we] might become rich" (2 Cor. 8:9).  

1 comment:

Shannon Morton said...

Your reading flows so smoothly that I find myself at the end of your post long before I am looking for it to end. You truly are a gifted writer, John!

Also, I am challenged by your thoughts and want to pursue what I believe to be the antidote to discontentment: thanksgiving! How appropriate to be recently reminded to count our blessings. I hope I can make this a daily habit and thereby "learn contentment" as you so beautifully wrote.