Two-thousand years ago, Jesus praised poor people and condemned rich people. He told parables of rich men who wound up in hell, and told a wealthy man to sell everything he had.
Today, unemployment is chronically high. The stock market is unstable. Thousands of homes are foreclosed, banks shut, and billions of dollars lost. More people than ever now live in poverty. Most of us became a little bit poorer because of the recession. Some of us became much poorer.
But on the upside, can we look at Jesus’ words to the wealthy and poor, and think that maybe we’ve become a little bit holier because of our decreased wealth? Now that we are a bit poorer, a tad more downtrodden, maybe we are more righteous in the eyes of God…
That would be great for me. The poorer you’ve become, the better off you are with God.
Too bad it doesn’t work that way. In fact, many of us today may be worse off with money, and with God.
Three Kinds of Poor People
The way I see it, there are three kinds of poor people…
The first are the people like most of you reading this blog: suburbanites who have enough money to find a way to read this blog, but are probably becoming poorer through unemployment, the recession, or inflation.
There are people in our culture who think we’re getting what we deserve. They think that Americans have too much money, and we probably stole it from someone else, so if we lose our jobs or our life savings, we’re getting our due. Maybe God is taking away our money because we’ve spent so much time idolizing and worshiping it.
If that’s the case, then this whole recession should be some kind of “spiritual cleansing.” We should all come out on the other side, poorer, unemployed, uninsured, and spiritually enlightened about how we never actually needed all that stuff.
Then there are people who think that rebelling against capitalism by not having a career or any possessions except the clothes on their backs and the beards on their faces makes them holier people.
Many of us may know someone like this, or you’ve seen them in your cities. They live as nomads, easily packing up and moving from odd job to random adventure. Their lives seem surreal and exciting compared to yours because they are not chained down by materialistic idols like jobs and children and “stuff.” You imagine that they are happier, and probably holier because they live such a meager existence. I saw a ton of these people in Denver this summer.
This is what I call “recreational poverty.” The difference between these people and real poor people is that they are able bodied, capable of working. They just choose not to. They have chosen a life that may be free of idolatrous “things,” but they are also free of responsibility. No one is counting on them. They contribute little of value to communities.
Homelessness is Next to Godliness
And then there are the people who are genuinely, desperately poor. Many of us would like to pretend we are poorer than we are, because we think that poverty breeds holiness, but these people are living it.
The thing is, poverty doesn’t breed holiness.
This recession is shaping up to be a complete waste. No one is becoming enlightened about all that money they never needed. Instead, the only thing I hear Americans do is complain about how bad the economy is, how much money they’ve lost, how much stuff costs. Of course, stuff has always cost too much.
And people who are poor just for the fun of it aren’t freeing themselves of any idols. Their lives, free of money and responsibility to family and community are just as self-centered as anyone living in wealth can be.
Money is a great invention, and we all need it. It represents what we can have in the future. It’s way better than bartering. What binds all of us together is the fact that the Bible does not say that “money is a root of all kinds of evil.” If that were true, than poverty should breed holiness. The less money you have, the less evil you should be. But the Bible says that “the love of money is a root of evil.” So no matter how little money I have, I can always love and trust my money above all else. And no matter how much money I have, I can always be envious of more.
What do you think? Is the global recession really producing people who care less about money? Or are we focusing on it, idolizing it more than ever, now that we don’t have as much as we think we need?
Matt Appling is a pastor and school teacher in Kansas City, Missouri. He blogs at TheChurchOfNoPeople.com.