Spirituality and affluence

Sometimes I spend time thinking about life and what it means.  I’ve been pondering something for awhile and wanted to share it with you.  Can a person be spiritual and affluent at the same time?  Are they mutually exclusive?  Can one accumulate wealth and still be rich in spirit?   Some preach a prosperity gospel, arguing that wealth is a sign that one is blessed.  Others argue that the love of money is evil and that wealth creates the tendency to love money; therefore, wealth is something to be shunned.  Still others walk and talk in contradictory terms, arguing that focusing on wealth is wrong while they live prosperous lives.  (In fact, most Americans are far more affluent than the vast majority of people around the world.)  These beliefs cut across many faiths, not just Christianity.  Buddhism invites people to shun worldly possessions and seek spiritual enlightenment.  Islam forbids usury.  In Christianity, the belief that wealth and spirituality are incompatible is fueled by Bible verses such as Matthew 19:24, which says, “It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God."  And by verses such as Matthew 6:24, which says "No one can serve two masters. Either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and Money.”  And by Matthew 6:19-20, "Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moth and rust do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal.” 

Is faith inherently incompatible with wealth?  I don’t think so.  While the pursuit of money can distract one from spiritual maturity (as can any number of distractions), I don’t believe that one has to live modestly or in poverty to be truly spiritual.  One should certainly tithe and/or give to charity as their faith and heart leads them.  However, a disorderly life marked by financial trouble, poverty, and any number of personal problems can significantly impact one’s faith.  When one does not tend to their personal affairs or mismanages them, they hurt their own spiritual growth.  It’s necessary to properly manage one’s personal affairs and seek spiritual growth.  They are not mutually exclusive.  Both should be managed well.  Wealth can be a byproduct of a life well managed.  A well managed life does not necessarily lead to wealth or spiritual maturity, but it definitely helps.  When one lives a certain lifestyle and does not have the foresight to look ahead to the day when their livelihood will be gone and prepare for it, their spiritual life will be negatively impacted because they will be forced to scramble to survive once their livelihood is gone. 

In practical terms, many Baby Boomers now face the prospect of living off Social Security when they retire because they did not have the foresight to plan ahead.  They do not even realize how fortunate they are that the government looks after them at all (so many people around the world do not have this benefit).  Social security substantially reduces one’s income after retirement, yet millions of Americans neglect to supplement their income with investments such as 401(k)s or IRAs.  Most fail to plan ahead for major illnesses by purchasing long-term health and life insurance.  One does not need to become wealthy to be spiritually blessed, and you won’t necessarily become wealthy by being blessed, but accumulating assets is prerequisite to survival.  Anything less reflects personal mismanagement that speaks ill of one’s character.  After all, who wants to listen to someone who talks of a spiritual life when they cannot manage their earthly affairs?  Strong words, I know, but truth can be a bitter medicine.

Rather than focus on wealth as an inherent evil, I prefer to recall the Parable of the Talents in Matthew 25:14-28.  It’s a great parable with a wonderful message.  Some would say that this only applies to spiritual matters, but I believe it’s applicable to life.  Each of us has been given talents.  Use them wisely.  Don’t bury them by investing them unwisely. 

    14"Again, it will be like a man going on a journey, who called his servants and entrusted his property to them. 15To one he gave five talents of money, to another two talents, and to another one talent, each according to his ability. Then he went on his journey. 16The man who had received the five talents went at once and put his money to work and gained five more. 17So also, the one with the two talents gained two more. 18But the man who had received the one talent went off, dug a hole in the ground and hid his master’s money.

    19"After a long time the master of those servants returned and settled accounts with them. 20The man who had received the five talents brought the other five. ‘Master,’ he said, ‘you entrusted me with five talents. See, I have gained five more.’

    21"His master replied, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your master’s happiness!’

    22"The man with the two talents also came. ‘Master,’ he said, ‘you entrusted me with two talents; see, I have gained two more.’

    23"His master replied, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your master’s happiness!’

    24"Then the man who had received the one talent came. ‘Master,’ he said, ‘I knew that you are a hard man, harvesting where you have not sown and gathering where you have not scattered seed. 25So I was afraid and went out and hid your talent in the ground. See, here is what belongs to you.’

    26"His master replied, ‘You wicked, lazy servant! So you knew that I harvest where I have not sown and gather where I have not scattered seed? 27Well then, you should have put my money on deposit with the bankers, so that when I returned I would have received it back with interest.

    28" ‘Take the talent from him and give it to the one who has the ten talents. 29For everyone who has will be given more, and he will have an abundance. Whoever does not have, even what he has will be taken from him. 30And throw that worthless servant outside, into the darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’

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