Friday, October 9, 2009

To those afflicted with riches*

(*and to the rest of us who, too often, wish we were.)

Despite the “neon” warning that:
It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of God,[1]
most of us, in our fondest dreams, wish we were “smitten with riches and that we should never recover”—in likeness of Tevye in Fiddler on the Roof.

The strange thing is—if we go by scripture—there is probably no greater risk to man’s eternal prospects than to have riches. The failure rate is nigh 100%! And we should wish such a test upon our self?!

Strange too, when we consider the story of the beggar Lazarus and the rich man.[2] At their sequential deaths, the beggar finds himself carried into the bosom of Abraham and the rich man finds himself raising pleas from hell. Where are the justice, merit, and conservative thinking in that scenario? From a trans-world perspective, it would almost seem safer to be a beggar than a rich man! Is that a contradiction or what, to our current capitalistic, individualistic, blessed-driven paradigm?!

What is it about riches that so afflicts mankind with failure? Is it the sense of merit? Of entitlement? Of ownership? Of self-sufficiency? Of freedom and power? Of basking in glory and honor taken unto oneself?

What does God say about these attitudes? Who deserves the credit/blame for riches and poverty?[3] By whose gifts and graces does man draw breath, move, think, plan, and endure from day to day?
▪ The LORD maketh poor, and maketh rich: he bringeth low, and lifteth up. (Old Testament 1 Samuel 2:7)
▪ Both riches and honour come of thee, and thou reignest over all; and in thine hand is power and might; and in thine hand it is to make great, and to give strength unto all. (Old Testament 1 Chronicles 29:12)
▪ For behold, are we not all beggars? Do we not all depend upon the same Being, even God, for all the substance which we have, for both food and raiment, and for gold, and for silver, and for all the riches which we have of every kind? … 22 … your substance, which doth not belong to you but to God, to whom also your life belongeth; (Book of Mormon Mosiah 4:16, 22; see also Book of Mormon Jacob 2:13; New Testament 1 Timothy 6:17; Doctrine and Covenants Section 38:39)
The word of God—particularly The Book of Mormon—details how, time after time, when the people were blessed (or perhaps it was afflicted) with prosperity, they turned to pride and to despising the poor—repeating cycles of falling away from faith, hope, and charity. Riches, it seems, comes coupled with a susceptibility to deception.
▪ And the hand of providence hath smiled upon you most pleasingly, that you have obtained many riches; and because some of you have obtained more abundantly than that of your brethren ye are lifted up in the pride of your hearts, and wear stiff necks and high heads because of the costliness of your apparel, and persecute your brethren because ye suppose that ye are better than they. (Bk of Mormon Jacob 2:13; see also Bk of Mormon Alma 45:24)
▪ Because thou sayest, I am rich, and increased with goods, and have need of nothing; and knowest not that thou art wretched, and miserable, and poor, and blind, and naked: 18 I counsel thee to buy of me gold tried in the fire, that thou mayest be rich; and white raiment, that thou mayest be clothed, and that the shame of thy nakedness do not appear; and anoint thine eyes with eyesalve, that thou mayest see. (New Testament Revelation 3:17-18)
▪ He also that received seed among the thorns is he that heareth the word; and the care of this world, and the deceitfulness of riches, choke the word, and he becometh unfruitful. (New Testament Matthew 13:22; see also Mark 4:19; Luke 8:14)
▪ But they that will be rich fall into temptation and a snare, and into many foolish and hurtful lusts, which drown men in destruction and perdition. 10 For the love of money is the root of all evil: which while some coveted after, they have erred from the faith, and pierced themselves through with many sorrows. (New Testament 1 Timothy 6:9-10)
▪ Now the cause of this iniquity of the people was this—Satan had great power, unto the stirring up of the people to do all manner of iniquity, and to the puffing them up with pride, tempting them to seek for power, and authority, and riches, and the vain things of the world. (Book of Mormon 3 Nephi 6:15)
▪ Perverse disputings of men of corrupt minds, and destitute of the truth, supposing that gain is godliness: (New Testament 1 Timothy 6:5)
God warns that there is only one safe way to pursue riches:
Think of your brethren like unto yourselves, and be familiar with all and free with your substance, that they may be rich like unto you. 18 But before ye seek for riches, seek ye for the kingdom of God. 19 And after ye have obtained a hope in Christ ye shall obtain riches, if ye seek them; and ye will seek them for the intent to do good—to clothe the naked, and to feed the hungry, and to liberate the captive, and administer relief to the sick and the afflicted. (Bk of Mormon Jacob 2:17-19)
God also warns, in starkest language, of the consequences of failing the purpose of riches:
▪ Wo unto you rich men, that will not give your substance to the poor, for your riches will canker your souls; and this shall be your lamentation in the day of visitation, and of judgment, and of indignation: The harvest is past, the summer is ended, and my soul is not saved! (Doctrine and Covenants Section 56:16)
▪ But wo unto the rich, who are rich as to the things of the world. For because they are rich they despise the poor, and they persecute the meek, and their hearts are upon their treasures; wherefore, their treasure is their god. And behold, their treasure shall perish with them also. (Book of Mormon 2 Nephi 9:30)
▪ … and the wise, and the learned, and they that are rich, who are puffed up because of their learning, and their wisdom, and their riches—yea, they are they whom he despiseth; and save they shall cast these things away, and consider themselves fools before God, and come down in the depths of humility, he will not open unto them. (Book of Mormon 2 Nephi 9:42)
▪ Perhaps thou shalt say: The man has brought upon himself his misery; therefore I will stay my hand, and will not give unto him of my food, nor impart unto him of my substance that he may not suffer, for his punishments are just— 18 But I say unto you, O man, whosoever doeth this the same hath great cause to repent; and except he repenteth of that which he hath done he perisheth forever, and hath no interest in the kingdom of God. (Book of Mormon Mosiah 4:17-18)
▪ GO to now, ye rich men, weep and howl for your miseries that shall come upon you. 2 Your riches are corrupted, and your garments are motheaten. 3 Your gold and silver is cankered; and the rust of them shall be a witness against you, and shall eat your flesh as it were fire. Ye have heaped treasure together for the last days. 4 Behold, the hire of the labourers who have reaped down your fields, which is of you kept back by fraud, crieth: and the cries of them which have reaped are entered into the ears of the Lord of sabaoth. (New Testament James 5:1-4)
And last but not least, God also warns the poor (with application also to the rich and to those of us who fall inbetween):
Wo unto you poor [and rich and inbetween] men, whose hearts are not broken, whose spirits are not contrite, and whose bellies are not satisfied, and whose hands are not stayed from laying hold upon other men's goods, whose eyes are full of greediness, and who will not labor with your own hands! 18 But blessed are the poor [and rich and inbetween] who are pure in heart, whose hearts are broken, and whose spirits are contrite, for they shall see the kingdom of God coming in power and great glory unto their deliverance; for the fatness of the earth shall be theirs. (Doctrine and Covenants Section 56:16-18)
Nonetheless (and alas!), even with all the warnings and déjà vu of life and scripture, most of us desire to be rich, believing we would surely prove the exception to the eye-of-a-needle forecast. If only God would just trust us enough to prove it!!
[1] New Testament Matthew 19:24; Mark 10:25; Luke 18:24-25
[2] Luke 16:19-31
[3] A note of explanation to the meritocrats: Yes, of course, most people play some part in the condition of their riches or poverty, but that is NEVER the whole story. God always has both the upper-hand and the higher view.