Wealth may be a perfect example of how we tend to put on blinders and ignore the messiness of the Scriptures.
For some, the Bible is filled with God’s promises of socioeconomic success. The prosperity gospel has spread across the world, appealing to those in the Majority World who have little but hope for better, and rich Westerners who want a religious stamp of approval on their relentless pursuit of wealth.
For others, the Scriptures contain a clear and unarguable call to lay down what wealth we have. Particularly focusing on passages like Jesus’ interaction with the rich young ruler, this countercultural position argues that wealth corrupts, and that our priority should not be amassing personal fortunes but caring for the poor and oppressed.
Now, if forced to choose between these I’m going to pick the later. The theology of the prosperity gospel is no theology at all, and not much of a gospel either. On the other hand, the call to give away all we have to serve others is deeply grounded in an impulse we find throughout the Scriptures.
However, I’d really rather not choose either position, simply because both seem to make the Biblical view of wealth more straightforward than the text really warrants.
Yes, Jesus called the rich young ruler to give away all he had. However the early church also was often able to meet because of the generosity of wealthy patronesses who offered their homes to the believers each week.
Yes, the early church held everything in common, so that all had enough. However for that arrangement to work, at least some of those involved had to have an income sufficient to share with the rest.
Misused or unjustly gained wealth is condemned, but the morality of wealth itself seems a bit more ambiguous.
Caring for the poor and oppressed should be of first importance to those claiming to follow Jesus, and I do think that the injustices of our economic system need to be confronted (and there is far more injustice than we’d like to admit).
But the stark either/or statements seem to miss something. For one thing, we all bring a personal bias.
We may end up intellectually agreeing with the call to give it all away, mostly as a way to make us feel like we’re not really a part of the system, not really attached to our pursuit of wealth. Just we can say God wants to bless us with wealth, in order to assuage the guilt we feel when we see how much we have compared to those around us.
We need to let the text be what it is, and not iron out the wrinkles which don’t line up with how we’ve decided it must be.
Our baggage doesn’t determine what the Scriptures say, and we need to be careful to let them speak for themselves in all their messiness.
– Where do you see this pull to flatten out the messiness of the text in the church today? In yourself?
– Is the Bible really that clear about wealth? Why or why not?