“The poorest man on earth is he whose only wealth is money”
When I worked at the hospital, I once had to take care of a suicide patient. It was a handsome gentleman in his 40’s. His wife called the ambulance when she learned he had taken a bottle of sleeping pills. He shared with me that he had been working for one of the largest real estate companies in America till a recent layoff. He lived in an affluent neighborhood and had a loving, supportive family. However, he said, he had been depressed most of his life. Now, having lost his job, he has lost it all. He feels like he needs to be at a certain financial level in order to respect himself and be worthy of living. Will he find another job like that? Maybe, but he still considers himself a worthless failure.
Apparently, that gentleman had been having a chronic depression which was exacerbated by the loss of his job. Yet, what could be some possible underlying causes of his depression? I’d like to briefly touch on the subject of wealth, which commonly plays a key role in people’s lives and could have been a major factor in that man’s life as well.
Brian Tracy, one of the world renowned coaches on the topics of leadership and financial success, proclaims in his slogan: “Your ability to earn money is the most precious thing you have” (cited from: https://www.briantracy.com/blog/brians-words-of-wisdom/what-are-you-worth/). This is a powerful but a very sad statement. It basically means that there is no other value or purpose to our lives except for making money. It also means that money is the only wealth we’ve got. Very sad. In fact, the way we define wealth for ourselves is very important because our wealth defines us. Our wealth is what matters most to us and what we rely upon. It’s something that gives us a sense of comfort and security the minute we think about it. It reflects our joys and hopes. It is what we take pride in. It is what we are most afraid to lose because our present and future depend on it. It’s what gives us a sense of self-actualization and fulfillment. Our wealth is the apple of our lives. While for some individuals wealth is qualitative and is defined by their relationships, the well-being of their children, their hobbies, and so forth, for most people, money is the ultimate token of wealth. Throughout history, money has earned an ambivalent reputation. Some have locked themselves up in the monasteries to escape its traps while others have gone as far for it as murder. However, the Bible presents a balanced, multifaceted perspective on money and sheds light onto the concept of wealth in general.
The Scripture asserts that money serves an essential function in one’s life. The necessity to make for one’s living disciplines the person, fosters diligence, humility, compassion for the needs of others, and gratitude. The Book of Proverbs warns us not to be lazy but hardworking, as idleness leads to poverty: “How long will you lie down, O sluggard? When will you arise from your sleep? “A little sleep, a little slumber, a little folding of the hands to rest”— your poverty will come in like a vagabond and your need like an armed man” (Proverbs 6:9–11). In addition, Apostle Paul sets an example for the believers to prudently earn their own bread and not take advantage of others’ generosity or resources: “For you yourselves know how you ought to follow our example, because we did not act in an undisciplined manner among you, nor did we eat anyone’s bread without paying for it, but with labor and hardship we kept working night and day so that we would not be a burden to any of you. If anyone is not willing to work, then he is not to eat, either. For we hear that some among you are leading an undisciplined life, doing no work at all, but acting like busybodies. Now such persons we command and exhort in the Lord Jesus Christ to work in quiet fashion and eat their own bread” (2 Thess. 3:7, 8, 10–12).
While money can give us some sense of security, it can’t provide peace, comfort, satisfaction, and satiety our inner person craves: “He who loves money will not be satisfied with money” (Eccl 5:10). In fact, nothing that we possess can. According to Scripture, the Lord and His Word of life are the true wealth. Our Creator is the ultimate immeasurable wealth every human soul longs for, often unknowingly. That abundance of wealth can be found in the relationship with Him: “I [Jesus] came that they may have life, and have it abundantly” (John 10:10). Apostle Paul prays that the believers would know the wealth of God’s glory: “…that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give to you a spirit of wisdom and of revelation in the knowledge of Him. I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened, so that you will know what is the hope of His calling, what are the riches of the glory of His inheritance in the saints, and what is the surpassing greatness of His power toward us who believe” (Ephesians 1:18–19). Furthermore, שָׁדַּי אֵל (El Shaddai) is one of God’s names used in the Bible, and it can be translated as a “Breastfeeding God.” The Hebrew word “shad” means “breast.” This female imagery of the God of Israel points to the fact that the Lord is our Parent. Similarly to the mother’s breast which can supply the nourishment the baby needs, the God of Israel has the unprecedented power to protect, nourish, provide for, and satisfy humankind.
We should definitely appreciate and be grateful for the riches the Lord has generously given us: our dear families, our jobs, our financial resources, our health, hobbies, and so forth. However, when these treasures take precedence in our hearts over the Lord, they become idols which impoverish our inner person and devastate our relationship with God. Thus, many individuals experience poverty, emptiness, depression, uncertainty, and anxiety in their hearts despite their financial success. Their sense of self-worth is often shallow and circumstantial. The Scripture warns us: “You cannot serve God and wealth” (Matthew 6:24) and “He who trusts in his riches will fall” (Proverbs 16:13). Furthermore, Jesus uncovers the spiritual poverty of the conceited wealthy believers in His message to the angel of Laodicea: “Because you say, “I am rich, and have become wealthy, and have need of nothing,” and you do not know that you are wretched and miserable and poor and blind and naked, I advise you to buy from Me gold refined by fire so that you may become rich, and white garments so that you may clothe yourself, and that the shame of your nakedness will not be revealed; and eye salve to anoint your eyes so that you may see. Those whom I love, I reprove and discipline; therefore be zealous and repent” (Revelation 3:17–19).
Humanity yearns for wealth. It’s a natural, basic need which takes its roots all the way back to the purpose of our creation – to enjoy the intimate relationship with our Heavenly Father, the King of true wealth and glory (Genesis 1:26–27). Since its fall in the Garden of Eden, humankind stubbornly tries to break away from God, find alternative sources of wealth, and ends up with temporary pleasure and incidental happiness. Dear readers, what is your wealth? What do you love and cherish most? As the Scripture encourages us, let’s taste the Lord and see how good He is, how deep and filling is His Word, how enlightening is His wisdom, and how immeasurable is the wealth of His love (Psalm 34:8)!
“Praise be to you, Lord; teach me your decrees. With my lips I recount
all the laws that come from your mouth. I rejoice in following your statutes
as one rejoices in great riches. The law from your mouth is more precious to me
than thousands of pieces of silver and gold. Your statutes are always righteous;
give me understanding that I may live” (Psalm 119:12–14, 72, 144).