THE POOR RICH AND THE RICH POOR
"I have more than E. H. Harriman (the railroad magnate), for I have all the money I want, and he hasnt"
But let the brother of humble circumstances glory in his high position; and let the rich man glory in his humiliation, because like flowering grass he will pass away. For the sun rises with a scorching wind, and withers the grass; and its flower falls off, and the beauty of its appearance is destroyed; so too the rich man in the midst of his pursuits will fade away (James 1:9-11).
Once upon a time there was an investments counselor who encountered a genie on the way to his office. When granted a wish he asked for a copy of US. News and World Report one year hence and hurriedly turned to the market page to plan his killing. He got more than he bargained for, however. There on an opposing page he spied his own facein an obituary describing his death in an automobile accident the previous day.
Thats the trouble with money, you know: we go. "The sun rises with scorching heat and withers the plant; its blossom falls and its beauty is destroyed. In the same way, the rich man will fade away even while he goes about his business" (James 1:10,11).
The brevity and flimsiness of life have inspired numerous metaphors in literature: human existence is compared to a dream, a flying shuttle, a mist, a puff of smoke, a shadow, a gesture in the air, a sentence written in the sand. Here James compares our life span to a spray of flowers that wither and die in the wind.
We invest their entire lives trying to accumulate money. We ruin our vacations, health, marriages, children, and friendshipsand for what? In the end we wither and die and leave our wealth behind. Thats why money is a very bad investment.
Theres more to money, however, than the fact that we leave it behind. The greater problem is that it can ruin our lives right now. It makes us believe that money, when we have enough of it, will make us secure anhd significant.
Jacob Needleman, writes in the introduction to his book, Money and the Meaning of Life, "I have always pictured poverty as associated with fear and anxiety about the future, fear of abandonment, fear of physical danger, and fear of loneliness. I see the poor as trapped, tense, cunning, harsh. I see them bored, empty of hope, or consumed by absurd fantasies...." The answer, he goes on to say, is to make money, for its money that tells us "Youre significant."
Money does talk, as Needleman insists, but mostly it lies to us. It really isnt true that money will make us feel successful and secure. The wellheeled know it isnt true: enough is never enough. Having money is just a goad to get more.
Furthermore, money also deceives us by telling us that when we have it we are wise and powerful. As Tevya, the fiddler on the roof, mused, when you got rich it doesnt matter if you answer right or wrong, "cause when youre rich they think you really know." Isnt it odd, though, that rich men, stripped of their wealth, are often considered great fools.
Financial ruin can make you look foolish, but it can also be an occasion to gain great wisdom. It teaches us James odd inversion: "The brother in humble circumstances ought to take pride in his high position; the one who is rich should take pride in his low position" (James 1:9,10). Poverty can enrich us, James insists, because in it we learn the secret of true wealth.
Being rich isnt about money, you see; its a state of mind. There is a wealth that leaves us poverty stricken and a poverty that makes us fabulously rich.
Heres the problem with money: if you love it, it will impoverish you for it will turn your heart from good. "If your eyes are bad," Jesus said, "your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light within you is darkness, how great is that darkness!"(Matthew 6:22,23).
If you fix your eyes on Mammon it will darken your heart, cloud your judgment and leave you morally confused and uncertain. It will lead you into bad decisionschoices that defy logic and deny your own values. You will fudge, cheat, embezzle, misappropriate, pad and pilfer. Youll do anything to make a buck. The light in your heart will go out and, as Jesus said, "How great is that darkness!" (Matthew 6:23).
But worse, the love of money will turn your heart from God. "No one can serve two masters," Jesus said. "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 God and Money" (Matthew 6:24). If you think about money all the time you will, in time, no longer take thought of God.
Mammon destroys our natural appetite for God. It substitutes one hunger for another. Were taken up with fashion, style, vogue, decor; we transfer our taste from primary to secondary things and God fades from our minds. Its been said that wanting money is a state of mind in which its easier to forget God than any other.
John Bunyon, in his Pilgrims Progress writes of the ruin of some travelers: "Now on the far side of that plain was a little hill called Lucre and in that hill (there was) a silver mine, which some of them, because of the rarity of it, had turned aside to see; but going too near the brim of the pit the ground being deceitful under them broke and they were slain. Some also had been maimed there, and could not to their dying day be their own men again."
"Hence one masterpassion in the breast, like Aaron's rod, swallows up the rest," said Alexander Pope. If we love money that devotion will inexorably supplant our passion for God and we will be maimed and slain by it. We will be "devoted to the one" and will inevitably "despise the other." We may dabble with God for a time, but in the end we will deny him.
SoGod in his mercy will do one of two things for us: he will give us money and leave us with heartbreaking disappointment in it, or he will take it all away. Either way, God is at work, humbling us, ridding us of our preoccupation with Mammon, loosening our grip on "earths toys and lesser joys" as Carolyn says, setting our affection on things above. This is the ruin that enriches us; the "low position" that leaves us better off than ever before.
What God leaves behind is pure gold: we have God and all that he gives. We need nothing more. Israels poet wrote out of his poverty, "I am always with you; you hold me by my right hand. You guide me with your counsel, and afterwards you will take me into glory . Whom have I in heaven but you and earth has nothing I desire besides you . As for me, it is good to be near God" (Psalms 73:2328). This is the good life. Who could ask for anything more?
One more thing: when we have God we have something of great value to give away to others. We can enrich their lives because our lives have been made rich by Gods wisdom and love. "As poor, yet making many rich; as having nothing, and yet possessing all things" (2 Corinthians 6:10). This is the richest man on earth!