Discussions of Mormons and Mormon life, Book of Mormon issues and evidences, and other Latter-day Saint (LDS) topics.

Monday, June 12, 2006

The Condemnation of the Rich

Like many prophets and the Lord himself, the prophet Jacob in the Book of Mormon has a stern warning for the rich:
But wo unto the rich, who are rich as to the things of the world. For because they are rich they despise the poor, and they persecute the meek, and their hearts are upon their treasures; wherefore, their treasure is their God. And behold, their treasure shall perish with them also.
Chances are that this warning applies to many of you, perhaps the vast majority of you. Those surrounded with the luxury of computers and easy Internet access are likely to be among the rich relative to the very needy in our midst and in other nations. So this is a good time to take a moment and reflect: do I look down on the poor? Is my heart on my treasures? "Their treasure is their God."

What a stumbling block wealth can be! It shapes our attitudes about others, it is often pursued at the expense of others (perhaps thereby persecuting the meek), and it becomes the object of our devotions. As a means to bless others and serve God, it can be a tool for good, but so many seem corrupted by the tool that it does become an idolatrous god rather than servant for good.

May we earnestly seek to serve God above all and not be misled by the deceitfulness of riches (Matt. 13:22).

18 comments:

Anonymous said...

Thanks for your post. I agree that we need to be VERY careful about where our heart lies. As the scriptures say, we cannot serve God and Mammon, for we can only love one or the other.

If we are pursuing wealth, we are not pursuing God. If we are pursuing God, we are not pursuing wealth. The scriptures are pretty clear.

We as LDS, and especially the many of us who live in wealthy countries like the U.S., need to be more cognizent of this. I think we fall way too easily into the typical capitalist mindset, without really thinking about the implications.

Andrea said...

My Husband and I have been married for less than two years; he just barely joined the military and we, compared to many of the people we know, are relatively poor.

But that's just it; it's all relative. Sometimes I just sit back and think, wow. We are so lucky; we have a roof over our heads, a nice heated house, a stove, dinner every night, even indoor plumbing, a vehicle, a tv, a computer...

It's not a sin to be rich, however. I think it's just a sin to abuse your wealth, and not use it wisely and with charity. And if it was so wrong, then I ask you if you've ever been to Temple Square and visited Brigham Young's Lion house, which is several stories tall and furnished with all kinds of high quality furniture and decorations.

I think there are just a few things we have to remember to keep ourselves in line when we start to realize that we're getting comfortably wealthy. Number one is gratitute. Even if you have nothing more than your body and beating heart, you have something to be thankful for. If you have much more than that, you should thank God every day for ALLOWING you to have that. Number two would be kind of a Buddhist philosophy; sometimes we should sit back and consider; if I woke up tomorrow and all of this was gone, would I be just as happy, or happier than I am now? Number Three is the sacred admonition to provide for your family. I say it's fantastic if you can raise a house where children are capable of doing things like taking classes in music and doing sports, and where they can gain the finest education. which leads me into point number four which is; never forget the value of work. If all of your earthly needs are met, there is always more you can do, and hopefully, leading into my fifth and final point, that thing will be to have charity. It's great to have wealth, because then you can have more to give. Not only can you give relatively as much as the widow's mite (which is to say, all you have) but you can use your excess time and funds for things like doing genealogy, volunteering in charitable organizations, teaching, the list goes on and on...

To reiterate my earlier statement, wealth is not evil. The bible itself differentiates; it's the LOVE of money that is the root of all evil, not money itself. It all rests on our own personal charity and humility how it effects our soul.

Curtis said...

It is apparently a sin to seek after wealth though. Christ told us in D&C 11:7 to seek not after riches, but to seek after the kingdom of God. When we have Eternal Life, then we are rich. D&C 49:20 says that it is not given that one man should possess that which is above another, for this purpose, the world lieth in sin.
Jesus told the rich young man that it is easier for a camel to fit thru the eye of a needle than for a rich man to get into heaven, and Hugh Nibley taught us to forget the nonsense about a posthern gate in the walls of Jerusalem called the "eye of the needle" because no such gate exists (counter to what is taught in some institute courses). For a greater perspective on wealth and the Gospel of Jesus Christ, I'd highly recommend Hugh Nibley's, "Approaching Zion."

Walker said...

I would be careful about being dogmatic either way--as I've heard both extremes on this view. Both are equally unappealing.

D&C 11:7 must be understood in the same sense that Jacob 2:13-19 (emphasizing vs 13 and 19): if you seek riches for the sake of doing good things and only good things(and as much as I love Brother Nibley's thought, I think he's off the mark on this one), then one is justified according to the scriptures.

However, we must be EXTREMELY careful to avoid the "the Lord makes the righteous rich" mentality." Can't tell you how many times as a youth I heard people refer to the material wealth of the apostles, as though they were trying to bribe us into righteousness. The implication of this, however, is that the making-ends-meet farmer in Guatamala is NOT being righteous. I'm not prepared to make that sweeping assumption.

The Lord grants riches for various reasons--the rich do not have a monopoly on righteousness or wickedness. On the contrary, riches and righteousness are two largely, if not entirely, independent variables.

Curtis said...

Walker, I almost agree with you entirely, except that I think that Jacob 2:17-19 should be interpreted in the background of the entire rest of revealed scripture on the subject, and not the other way around.

To disagree with Nibley on this one is dangerous ground in my opinion... not that Nibley is the great authority on the subject that we must bow down to without questioning, but that to do so would be to disagree with almost the entire revealed word of the Lord on the subject. Nibley does nothing more than to bring the scriptures and words of current prophets together and put an exclaimation point on the end. I reiterate my recommendation that the interested individual check out Nibley's, "Approaching Zion." It's quite an eye-opener.

Walker said...

Curtis:

WIth all do respect, I fail to see how "the entire revealed word of the Lord" intimates that seeking after riches is wrong ipso facto. If riches were inherently evil, why would these prophets make ANY concessions to their goodness, as Jacob has? After all, I have seen some VERY prideful folks of the lower class. Money does not pride make.

From President Hinckley: No matter our financial circumstances, we want to improve them. This, too, is GOOD if it is not carried to an extreme. I am satisfied that the Father of us all does not wish His children to walk in poverty. He WANTS them to have comforts and some of the good things of the earth. In the Old Testament, He speaks of “a land flowing with milk and honey,” of the fatlings of the flock, and of other things which indicate that He would have His children properly fed and clothed and sheltered, enjoying the comforts that come of the earth, but NOT TO EXCESS (Mar. 1990--Ensign)

G.K. Chesterton noted that Christ's doctrines go wild when isolated from one another. As with most doctrines, the teaching in D&C 11:7 similarly goes AWOL without being soothed by other scriptures. Same with the Jacob verses. Brigham Young's famous quip about the Latter Day Saints not being able to stand wealth implies that we SHOULD be able to stand wealth.

In Nibley's "We will still weep for Zion," he cites Young as condemning "loose conduct," those who "mainly" look for luxury. Nibley attacks "covetousness," the trust in "material things," and "carnal security." None of these things are automatic results of having luxury. Abraham was no pauper--but the key was he was quite willing to give up his prized possession when asked to do so.

Anonymous said...

In my mission most problem elders were children of the rich. The Nephite-disease is alive and well in the church.

Anonymous said...

No, no, if we keep the commandments we will prosper. I can have the BMW because I pay my tithing, I don't have to be able to afford it, I can have faith that my family will be provided for!

ltbugaf said...

When I was living in a married student ward at BYU, nearly everyone in the ward had very little money. I remember giving a lesson on helping the poor in Priesthood meeting, where I pointed out that although we felt poor, we really didn't have to look very far away to find those who live on one meal a day or who wrap their feet in rags because they can't afford shoes. We agreed that as people with very little money we were probably in greater of being covetous and obsessed with money than those who had more.

Walker said...

Well put, Anon.

Living beyond our means, as you imply, is definitely not smiled on by the Lord.

Personally, I'm a fan of living the law of consecration now, yes, even today. There's no limit on charitable contributions--one can donate A LOT--even everything beyond what is necessary for sustinence. The law of consecration can be lived today--but only on an individual basis.

The day when I do have excess income (rofl--if some of think that's true now), that's the plan.

Curtis said...

Walker,
Actually, the Lord is quite eager that we enjoy the wealth of the earth. The key is that he wants us to enjoy it equally. Thus the words of the Lord in Section 38 of the D&C where He says:

And if ye seek the riches which it is the will of the Father to give unto you, ye shall be the richest of all people, for ye shall have the riches of eternity; and it must needs be that the riches of the earth are mine to give; but beware of pride, lest ye become as the Nephites of old.

He wants us to be rich as a people, not as individuals. This is also seen in D&C 49:20 where the Lord says:

But it is not given that one man should possess that which is above another, wherefore the world lieth in sin.

Even Jacob himself, who creates the controversy by saying that it is ok to seek after riches after finding the kingdom of God (of course, when can you say you have finished seeking the kingdom of God?) adds this qualifier in Jacob 2:

17 Think of your brethren like unto yourselves, and be familiar with all and free with your substance, that they may be rich like unto you.

He seems to agree with the Lord who says that we should not be possessing that which is above another and says we have to disperse our wealth until we are equal with our bretheren.

Seeking after riches is sanctioned here in conjunction with the law of consecration and a more or less equal distribution of that wealth. Individual wealth is apparently the reason the world lies in sin according to the Lord.

Walker said...

What do you say, then, of Pres. Hinckley's remarks? He was not addressing an audience who live the law of consecration in the same way those of the 19th century did.

Curtis said...

I'd say his remarks are in line with revealed scripture and they must be considered with the rest of the sayings of the Lord on the subject.

Walker said...

Exactly. Couldn't agree more. However, it seems you've got a pretty firm mindset as to what "the revealed word of the Lord" says--too firm, in my opinion.

Let's look at what I see as this context of the revealed word of the Lord. I did a search of lds.org for "wealth," see what would pop up. Certainly, there were plenty of warnings to not trust in riches, that a rich man's house is his destruction. But there were also plenty of admonitions that "he that gathereth by labor shall increase" (Prov. 13:11). It takes a real stretch to fit that into the Law of Consecration, especially as Solomon was living under the Mosaic law, the law of consecration being one of the higher covenants.

Bottom line: while we shouldn't be seeking wealth, the revealed word clearly describes individual wealth as a blessing from God

Eccl. 5:19--Wealth is a gift from God (note it says: "to every man"--this is an individual basis not as a people)
1 Cor. 10:24--A verse about motives--if you're seeking wealth over the needs of the human family, you're in sin
2 Chr. 1:12--The Lord promises Solomon, an individual, riches and wealth because he sought first for wisdom

Finally, it is certain that Lehi was a very wealthy individual (the fact that he had gold and silver to use for the plates should tell us something). Yet he was quite willing to give it up for the Lord.

As you say, the revealed word of the Lord is clear: seek first the kingdom, and everything else will be added unto you. But the revealed word is clear in another way too: wealth is a gift from God, whether it comes in abundance or comes in the widow's mite.

Curtis said...

Walker,
None of the scriptures you quoted say it's ok to seek after riches. If you seek after riches you are not seeking after the kingdom of God. Jesus taught that when he said that we can't serve God and Mammon. The human mind has the capacity to think of only one thing during a given moment. Our thoughts and the desires of our hearts speak loud and clear to God and angels of what is most important to us. Seek the kingdom of God and everything else will be added unto you, but don't go seeking after everything else. Even Jacob says we can finally seek for wealth only after we have first sought after the kingdom of God... but when can you say you have found the kingdom of God and need to seek no more? The mind of a covetous man is not fit to be written on by the pen of revelation according to Brigham Young. To someone seeking after wealth and riches, I'm afraid that the vast majority of the time, that person will not sufficiently search out the kingdom of God.

Walker said...

"while we shouldn't be seeking wealth, the revealed word clearly describes individual wealth as a blessing from God"

"The Lord promises Solomon, an individual, riches and wealth because he sought first for wisdom"

"None of the scriptures you quoted say it's ok to seek after riches."

On these points, we agree.

"Seek the kingdom of God and everything else will be added unto you, but don't go seeking after everything else."

Again, agreed, provided that we're both referring to the individual "you," and not the collective "you" of the law of consecration.

My argument is simply that riches, even on an INDIVIDUAL level, is a fundamentally good thing. It's quite the paradox though, since the best way to seek after riches is by seeking after the kingdom.

To me, though, the discussion about the place of wealth in the gospel is only useful on the theoretical level. Theoretically, wealth is a blessing from God. But once we begin seeking that blessing IN PRACTICE, it is no longer a blessing, but a curse.

Curtis said...

Walker,
I find it useful to look at everything received in this life, wealth, poverty, sunshine, rain, kids, no kids, worldly success, no worldly success etc... as a part of the test rather than as a blessing or a curse, since this life is entirely a probationary state. May we all pass the test and receive true wealth in the next life.

Anonymous said...

One touch of the Living Christ and this whole conversation turns to meaningless fluff. Spend your days loving His suffering children and leave the evil and all discussions that swirl and distract from His work to those who have chosen it. Both sides of the conversation have "me" at the center.