I just read that the combined net worth of Bill Gates, Warren Buffett and Jeff Bezos is greater than the net worth of the poorer half of the population of the United States. These three men possess as much 160 million Americans, that is, $248,500,000,000. Should we be outraged at the injustice? Or, do we have to fight our temptation to envy? Do we resent them or admire them? Do we feel sorry for the poorer half of the nation, or do we make moral heroes of them? All of these and more are possible reactions. But I had another thought this morning.
Sometimes I think of what I could do with Gates-level wealth. I dream of the good I could do and, I admitted it, of the stuff I could buy, the fame I could have, and the influence I could exert. But not today. Today, I thought of all the things I COULD NOT do with $248,500,000,000. Here are my top eight things we cannot buy with any amount of money, not necessarily in order of priority:
- We cannot acquire the love of another person. Love must be freely given. If you want to be loved, you must love, love with no expectation of having that love returned. Attempt to purchase it and it will turn to dust at your touch.
- We cannot become good people. Virtue is acquired through God’s grace, reason, practice, and humility. Virtue consists in power over oneself to direct the self single-mindedly toward the highest good. It’s not for sale.
- We cannot buy God’s approval or sway his judgment. God does not judge as human beings judge. God knows and judges according to truth, and the standard by which he judges is his own perfect justice and love. In relation to God, all we can say is “God be merciful to me, a sinner.” Receiving God’s approval should be our supreme desire. And you can’t order it from Amazon.com.
- You cannot buy an education. You can buy a teacher’s time, computers, and libraries of books. You may avoid having to spend your time working. You can afford to attend an expensive university. But rich or poor, learning is acquired by study. You can’t get it by writing a check.
- We cannot buy health. Being able to purchase excellent medical care is an advantage, for sure. But everyone dies, and cold viruses, cancer, heart decease, and genetic disorders do not distinguish rich from poor. Accidents do not check the financial position of their victims. We need other resources to deal with sickness and death: courage and faith and love. And you can’t charge them to your platinum VISA card.
- No amount of money can buy happiness, peace, or joy. In these states of mind we have a sense of fullness, of having everything we need, of wanting nothing beyond what we have. But no finite thing can establish these states as permanent. True and lasting happiness, peace and joy must be grounded in the knowledge of possessing and being possessed by the infinite source of everything good, God. And God is as close to you as your heartbeat. The one who has God has everything, but the one who lacks God will sooner or later find everything else worthless. And God’s purchase price cannot be translated into Dollars, Euros, or Pounds Sterling.
- You cannot change the past or buy forgiveness. Only God can work all things, bad and good, for good. Only God can forgive sin and heal sin’s evil consequences. You cannot absolve yourself of your sins; nor can you erase the memory of your guilt. The ghost of regret is immune to bribery.
- Banishing anxiety about the future is not within our power. Whatever safeguards you put into place, you cannot exorcize the specter of what could be. The possibilities for evil are as rich as our imaginations, or even greater. There is only one ground of hope, the faithful Creator. And there is only one way to benefit from this Ground, to surrender all hope in yourself and to trust God in life and in death. God’s reliability bears no relationship to our net worth, and trust is not a financial transaction.
I could have turned these eight points around and written about
“Eight Supremely Valuable Things You Can Enjoy Right Now Free of Charge.”
You can love and be loved.
You can become a good person.
You can enjoy God’s approval.
You can learn about God and God’s creation.
You can appreciate the health you have.
You can experience happiness, peace, and joy.
You can experience God’s forgiveness.
You can let go anxiety about the future.
At what price, you say? We don’t have to give up anything of real value. Quite the contrary, we get to trade in our worthless stuff, our pain, sadness, disappointment, despair, self-deception, pride, shame, and fear…. God will take those worthless things in exchange for things valuable beyond reckoning.
Perhaps envying, resenting or vilifying the rich or pitying, praising, or excusing the poor—understandable though they are—are not the most Christian, or even the most rational, responses to economic disparity. Perhaps we ought to learn to make our judgments according to the value system determined by God’s economy.
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