About Trying To Serve God And Mammon Or the Gospel of Wealth

Well, it’s Scripture quiz time. Question: According to Jesus, as recorded in Scriptures, is it possible to serve both God and Mammon? Answer Yes or No.

Answer: According to Matt 6:24 and Luke 16:13, “Ye cannot serve God and mammon.”

Yet, look around you. You’ll find people strongly equating wealth/health/success with righteousness, insinuating that such things automatically follow from righteous lives. But if we read the Sermon on the Mount (part of which is recorded in Matt 6, where the above quote can also be found), it is quite obvious that it is not just that we cannot serve God and mammon, we get several instructions about how to handle our obligations to community, from giving our alms in secret to giving our cloak also, if someone sue us for our coat (well, Jesus didn’t live in the US, where you have more litigators per capita than anywhere else in the world, who will go to court for you for a cut of the loot) to not resisting evil–when it’s being done to ourselves, that is.

And what’s more, when Jesus said, “Take no thought for your life, what ye shall eat, or what ye shall drink; nor yet for your body, what ye shall put on” I don’t think he meant to give us license to be idlers. Just that we shouldn’t expend our energy scheming on how to get rich and gather massive surpluses, especially not by cheating, abusing the meek, weak and the helpless or in any other such way. No matter how entitled we feel to it, because we worked our whole lives so hard to get them! (Also note the mention in the footnote about the Greek expression that means “fretting”, “anxious concern” or “worrying” rather than planning or thinking of.)

What I’m actually doing is I’m indicting the Gospel of Wealth as preached by so many American Christians, including many Mormons. How many times have you heard the story of the mysteriously appearing stranger who hands an envelope full of hundreds to the destitute family who previously decided to pay their tithing first and worry about the food later? I’m not saying such things don’t happen, but I’m saying let’s not talk like God is a vending machine, where you always get more money than you put in! Honestly!

I think our faith should be more like that of the Three Hebrews in Daniel’s ch. 3. Shadrach, Meshag and Abed-nego refused to bow down to Nebuchadnessar’s idol. The king threatened them with death by fire, and they said, to paraphrase: “Our God is able to save us from your furnace, if it’s his will–and if it isn’t we’ll die rather than offend our God!” They knew that because of the Redeemer, they had  the hope of resurrection and eternal life if they are faithful to what they knew.

And what should be the reward of our faith, then? I’d say that if the reward of your faith is your big house and nice car, the Caribbean vacations and family trips to Disneyland, have you considered that you’re one of those, who already have their reward, as Jesus succinctly said about the hypocrites? The way of this world is that “stuff happens” to just about anybody. Doesn’t God let his sun shine and the rain fall on the “just and the unjust” equally?

And if it so happens, that the buck stops with you, and they keep gathering in your pocket, what then? Hoard it? Collect a five-year surplus of everything and build an underground nuclear proof bunker for your family and storage, then going about thinking you have all that because you’re righteous? That sounds an awful lot like trusting in the arm of the flesh. What if you gave all credit to God, gave him thanks and showed your gratitude by giving freely of what you have to those, who are in need. I won’t go deeper in this, but read the Sermon on the Mount, and also King Benjamin’s farewell speech (Mosiah 2-5 but especially vv. 4:16-23). He indicts feelings of entitlement and self-righteousness most severely.

One of the most worrying kinds of interpretations of the Gospel of Wealth — or equating material success and safety with righteousness — are the ones, where, for example, Haiti’s devastating earthquake early this year was said to have happened because of the iniquity of the Haitians; a pact with Satan was reportedly said to have brought on the calamity (and I observed some fellow LDS swallow that hook, line and sinker).I don’t know about any such pacts, whether they be true or not, but very much Doubt that the LDS members in Haiti, who lost their homes or lives of themselves or family members, were in on it. Remember that God promised to save Sodom/Gomorrah for just a handful of righteous people, but that doesn’t mean that every natural disaster can be averted.

One of the lessons of life for me has been patience. I can not remember a time in my life, when physical pain was not an everyday thing. First I was called lazy, then a hypochondriac; it was all in my head when it hurt to be on my feet. Part of just staying alive and half way sane was learning to put one foot in front of the other and swallow the pain until it became intolerable. Being physically totally inactive was to be the worst thing to do! But you should have seen my wife cry when people insinuated in front of her that I must be doing something very wrong if I’m so sick, because doesn’t the Word of Wisdom promise us health. That was much worse than the physical pain I had. Then, thanks to new kinds of microsurgery repeated several times, my hearing has been restored to almost normal. According to the Gospel of Wealth those inventions that permitted it happened because of my righteousness (apparently I was a very wicked infant, when my ears went because infections).

Again I say, that yes, I am convinced that our lives will turn out better if we take hold of the hand that the Lord reaches to us. If we follow his commandments, we will know if they are from God or of man (see John 7:16-17). But we should not, in my opinion, feel “entitled” to certain blessings just because we do some outward thing. Even if you live the Word of Wisdom and live a healthy lifestyle in all respects, and do everything you know and understand to do, you will one day be ill; if nothing else, one day a doctor will pronounce you dead for a medical cause–that is how medical science works.

Or even if you are a most professional worker and have the greatest personal integrity, you can lose your job, if the Money Machine decides to bankrupt your company, and sometimes that is done despite the fact that you are making a profit for the owners. Because then you are also at the mercies of the greediest money-grubbers. Well, I think you’re still better off, unemployed but faithful, than the money-grubber who moved his/her money to a more lucrative investment.

And what is or should be our reward then? Well, some miracles take longer than others, but let’s go to the real punchline: “And, if you akeep my commandments and bendure to the end you shall have ceternal life, which gift is the greatest of all the gifts of God” (D&C 14:7, 6:13, etc.) or “But blessed are they who are faithful and aendure, whether in life or in death, for they shall inherit eternal life” (D&C 50:5).

I would say: If you go to Jesus and follow him, you will have peace in this life, and eternal life in the world to come, and your life will be better than if you try to “go it alone”.

You can see I’ve mulled over this for a long time. I have hundreds of Scripture references that deal with the matter, and I have tried to find a way to get them into a coherent post.

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