“The wealth of the rich is his fortified city; in his imagination it is like a high wall.” (CSB – Read the chapter)
I have done a fair bit of premarital counseling over the years. As I have, one of the things I have addressed with my couples every single time is finances and their thoughts on money. This is because financial pressures lie at the heart of a number of marital disagreements. One of the exercises I always do helps each partner reveal what for them is the meaning of money. With only one exception in 15 years, the answer has always been the same: Money is security. We live in a culture in which the vast majority of people view money as a source of security. While that is completely understandable, Solomon had something to say about it here to which we had probably give some attention. Let’s do that this morning as we continue our journey exploring how to get better at being rich.
Think for just a second about how you would feel if you woke up and suddenly found that your bank account was empty. Maybe you’re in a season of life in which that’s not such an unthinkable proposition. But even then, if you woke up and found that the little you expected to be there wasn’t, how would you feel? Would your first reaction be anger? Or would it be fear? Would you get hit with a wave of strangling anxiety because you couldn’t in that moment imagine how you were going to pay your bills or put food on your table. That kind of fear can be a pretty disorienting experience.
The thing is, waking up to no money in the bank is a fear that feels a whole lot more realistic this week than it did this time last week. Over the weekend the U.S. and world economies experienced the collapse of two large banks. Billions upon billions of dollars were essentially wiped out in a matter of hours. The situation is, of course, incredibly complex and there are fingers flying every which direction as to who should be stuck with the blame for its happening, but seeing a bank collapse is an unnerving thing. Yes, the holdings of the vast majority of U.S. citizens are backed up by government insurance, giving them a degree of comfort that doesn’t necessarily exist in other nations, but the reminder of the inherent impermanence of money is uncomfortable all the same.
We talked a bit yesterday about the fact that the more stuff we have, the more we are tempted to depend on that stuff. And this makes perfect sense (from a worldly perspective anyway). We can see it. It’s there. When we need it, we go and get it. If an emergency comes up, there’s a good chance that money will play at least some role in making it better. The larger the pile of money we have, the bigger the emergency we feel like we can handle. This is part of why the thought of waking up to our bank account’s being empty is so terrifying. Our minds immediately go to all of the horrible-sounding what-ifs that could come our way that we wouldn’t know how to handle without our financial life preserver.
All of this, however, is not a new thing. People have always been tempted to imagine that their money is a wall they can hide behind when danger threatens. Solomon first wrote this proverb done somewhere in the neighborhood of three thousand years ago. As the wisest man who ever lived would observe in another collection of his writings, ‘There is nothing new under the sun.”
Way back in Solomon’s day, a city without walls was a city that was not going to last long. Raiders and pillagers were a real thing then. Enemy armies looking to expand their territory would gobble up unwalled villages like they were popcorn. If a city was going to last it needed walls. The biggest and strongest cities then were the biggest and strongest cities because they had the biggest and strongest walls. Modern archaeological excavations of some of the most prominent ancient cities have revealed the truly incredible walls some of them had. People who lived in these basically impregnable fortresses could rest easy knowing that foreign invaders could pose them no meaningful threat.
As Solomon noted here, there were people in his day who imagined that their money functioned in much the same way. The more they had, the more comfortable they were facing the various dangers the world contained. With a large enough pile of money, nothing could really pose a meaningful threat to them. They could buy their way out of anything.
In the second Christian Bale Batman movie, The Dark Knight, the film opens with a series of bank robberies orchestrated by Heath Ledgers’ Joker (who offered what was easily the best portrayal of Joker on the big screen ever). Rather than simply stealing a bunch of money for the sake of enriching himself, The Joker was stealing the cash reserves these banks held for the various crime bosses of Gotham. Once he had all of their money, they figured he was simply making a play on their territory like any of them might have done in his position. But then, in a shocking scene, The Joker pours gasoline over the entire mountain of cash and burns it to the ground. He didn’t care about the money at all. He just wanted to create chaos. It was his very dis-attachment from any sort of financial incentives that made him such an unnerving villain.
The trouble with putting so much trust in money, as we have so recently been reminded, is that it can be gone in a flash. There’s literally nowhere our money is totally safe from loss. If it is all digital, a few keystrokes can wipe it out. If it is in a bank’s vault, it could be stolen. Even if we have it hiding in holes in our backyard, someone could sneak in and dig it up. Stuff doesn’t last. And even if it were to last, eventually our journey through this life is going to come to an end, and not a single scrap of it is going to accompany us into what comes next. The simple matter is that money is not a reliable source of security. And the more we look to it for that kind of function, the more we are setting ourselves up for disappointment and disaster.
If you want to be good at being rich, don’t look to money for your security. Don’t seek in it what you will only ever find in Christ. If you are already rich, start finding ways to lessen your dependence on what you have in the bank. Notice that I didn’t say to consider whether or not you are depending on what you have in the bank. If you have a lot in the bank, the odds are nearly overwhelming that you are depending on it at some level. Find ways to transfer that dependence to something – or rather, to Someone – entirely more reliable and deserving of it. If, on the other hand, you aren’t rich yet, start practicing putting all your dependence on Christ and not in the little bit of money you do have now. That way, should God see fit to increase the amount of His stuff He gives you to manage at some point in the future, you’ll be ready when the moment arrives.
People who are good at being rich don’t trust in their money. They trust in God. Make sure that you are too.