Sunday, November 20, 2005

Christianity and Stuff

An on-going debate within Christianity has to do with what rich folk ought to do with the wealth they have. If you find yourself winning the lottery, would it be appropriate to buy a four thousand square foot house, or a BMW 700 series, or half of your town?

Usually, at some point in this discussion, someone will say "it isn't a sin to be wealthy or to have stuff." OK, not by definition perhaps, but don't we have some Scriptural instruction along these lines?

What was the point of Micah's and Amos's condemnation of the Jews? Buried in denunciations of perjurous activities, of coniving methods of gaining advantage over each other, of using items of clothing unjustly taken from others in church, there is the denunciation of the Cows of Bashan.

These cows are wealthy Jewish women who apparently loll around the house doing not much more than indulging their drink and food urges "...get me another drink!" While we can understand the other behaviors being condemned, why this one? What's wrong with taking an afternoon off and having a couple bruskies?

If we were to stay with our normal response, there'd be nothing wrong with what these women are doing. But the text makes it clear there is something wrong with what they're doing. I suspect it is spending their wealth and their time on themselves with little to no regard for those who are less fortunate than they. They may be ignorant snobs or they may be malignant oppressors; we aren't told. What we do know is that they don't seem to be helping anyone.

So how does that affect us? First we must come to grips with the fact that we generally want nice stuff. Never mind that we don't need the stuff in the first place, but we want it to be nice if we're going to have it. Do we ever stop to ask whether we need this thing or that? Do we need the top of the line, or would a generic item do just as well? Do we consider what we could do with the money we don't spend on ourselves if we would learn to get along without the "stuff."

Is it sinful to be wealthy? No, God doesn't say that. The question is, what does God expect us to do with that wealth? Do we buy that 700 series, or do we buy something about half that price and donate the remainder? If my reading of the Prophets is correct, God would be more pleased with us if we would choose the latter.

I am not suggesting that I am perfect in making these decisions, but I do think that the usual refrain of "it isn't a sin to be wealthy" makes our decisions a bit too comfortable.

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