Whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will save it. What good is it for someone to gain the whole word, and yet lose or forfeit their very self? (Luke 9.24-25)
Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. (Matthew 6.21)
Living This Lesson
A nasty head cold over the weekend sapped my drive to do little more than doze in front of the TV. (Efforts to pull together a Sunday post went nowhere, for which I apologize.) I did manage to reply to comments here and engage in a heated Facebook discussion sparked by a comment I posted last Friday about the current union controversies. As expected, conservative friends pounced on my remark about “free-wheeling ‘governance.’” They talked dollars, I talked lives, and in the end we agreed we didn't know what the best solution might be. On Sunday evening, Walt and I watched Inside Job, Charles Ferguson’s outstanding documentary about the global economy’s 2008 collapse. Its depiction of incestuous relationships between government, regulators, investment banks, and thought leaders dumbfounded us. The only response I could muster came from Luke 9.25: “What does it profit a man to gain the world and lose his soul?” (KJV)
So soon after a lost weekend peppered with money talk, I opened the 40-Day Journey with Dietrich Bonhoeffer to find the Facebook chat and film prepped me for today’s topic. “Goods are given to us to be used, but not to be stored away,” he writes. “The heart clings to collected treasure. Stored-up possessions get between me and God. Where my treasure is, there is my trust, my security, my comfort, my God.” The text we’re asked to contemplate in light of these thoughts is Matthew 6.31-32—Jesus’s teaching to trust God’s daily provision based on provision we see in wildlife, recently discussed in Back to Nature. Bonhoeffer also reminds us of manna that spoiled when stored, the subject of Our Daily Bread, posted here in the wake of the 2008 meltdown. As I pondered all of this, I thought, “We’ve been living this lesson for nearly three years. And while I see little evidence the world has learned it, have we, as believers, taken it to heart?”
The Antidote to Fear
We’re not fond of discussing money and possessions. If we’ve accumulated an abundance of wealth, we’re concerned about appearing selfish and insecure. If we’re in need, we’re ashamed of not having succeeded. Either way, discomfort about finances is rooted in undue credence we give to the human economy’s metrics of success and security. We accept the market’s rules, methods, and measures without questioning its principles, which are blatantly founded on fear unique to us. Knowledge and logic—drawn from awareness of our mortality—compel us to offset uncertainty with trust in material goods, about as insane a notion as we’ll ever devise.
Do other creatures plan for old age? Do they amass fortunes for their offspring? At best, they stockpile food to sustain them through scarce times. When the seasons change, however, they leave their overstock for fresh pastures. They’re unencumbered by worry and ownership. They instinctively live day-to-day at the will and mercy of God. Yet we—who know God and cognitively recognize God holds our lives in hand—hang onto every shred we can collect, socking away “nest eggs,” saving for “rainy days,” and relying on “insurance” and “securities” and “real estate.” Surely by now we realize entrusting our future to possessions is a dubious pursuit. Not only must we admit what we own can vanish through none of our doing, we also must confess the value we place on wealth is illusory. The antidote to fear of want isn’t financial stability. If it were, we’d stop when we had enough to safeguard against its terrors. But we don’t stop, because fear of losing what we’ve got urges us to get more. The only antidote to a fear-based economy is trusting God to care for us in every circumstance. That’s why we participate in the human economy without relying on it. Instead, we invest our faith in the discipleship economy.
Losing is Saving
“Whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will save it. What good is it for someone to gain the whole word, and yet lose or forfeit their very self?” Jesus says in Luke 9.24-25. In every way, the discipleship economy contradicts humanity’s fear-based economy by endorsing sacrifice, not security. It assesses wealth by what’s given, not gained. It measures success by the richness of heart, not portfolio. The discipleship economy’s fundamental law holds that losing is saving and saving is losing. Its standard of currency isn’t material. It functions exclusively on intangible exchanges and investments—sacrificial love, tolerance, kindness, grace, mercy, and so on. Its key objective has nothing to do with sustaining the physical body, which is futile, given its mortality and vulnerability to random harms. The discipleship economy’s sole intent is nurturing and maintaining spiritual growth. In realms where its principles are applied, there are no “haves” and “have-nots.” Everyone gives and everyone gains. No one is at risk of gaining so much that he/she loses or forfeits his/herself, because what is gained is passed on. Security for all is assured.
In Matthew 6.20-21, Jesus says, “Store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moths and vermin do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” And in case we’re not getting the point, He adds in verse 24: “You cannot serve both God and money.” We are called to make a choice. Do we permit the fear-based economy to dictate our worldview and shape our behavior? Or do we place our trust in the discipleship economy that’s immune to material loss and trades in intangible riches? Fearful hearts that store up material treasures are wedges between God and us. During Lent, with its talk about what we “give up,” perhaps we should consider giving all of it up—all the trust we bank in things that, in the end, will not cure our fears, and all the fears that urge us to trust anything other than our Creator. As we’ve witnessed with alarming vividness, the human economy steals the souls of its adherents. The discipleship economy pays eternal rewards that protect and prosper our souls.
The human economy puts its trust in the coin. The discipleship economy puts its trust in God. One is driven by fear; the other counteracts it.
Postscript: “Nothing Between”
Bonhoeffer’s comment about stored up treasure coming between God and us brought this old hymn to mind. Apparently it’s fallen from favor, as the youtube selection was pretty slim. As you listen to its lyrics, you’ll no doubt see why…