MUCH WEALTH IS MORE BURDENSOME THAT GREAT POVERTY
by Dr. Henderson Ward 4/11/2012 / Christian Living
Whenever we deal with some contentious subjects like crime, faith, doctrine or family we are entering areas of great controversy and debate with opinions being formed and colored by a raft of personal experience. This is especially true when we are dealing with a subject like wealth and poverty. I am not going to define wealth and riches and poverty since all these things are relative and each of us will have our own notion. You know from your own experience those who are rich, wealthy or poor in your community or country and that knowledge, however skewed or esoteric, is sufficient for an understanding of the thrust of this essay.
So many people want to be rich, strive for it, dream about it and yet we have so many who are poor and constantly bemoan their lot and will never be rich. While it is true that your perception of wealth depends on how much of it you possess and indeed the type of person you are nevertheless some things stand out to the impartial observer. Whoever you are you will have to admit that riches and poverty are transitional. While it is true that there will always be poverty and riches in the world, i.e. rich people and poor people among us, there is universal recognition and acceptance that a rich person may end up poor and a poor person may end up rich and there are no guarantees that one's status will not change.
Grinding poverty with its ability to break the human spirit and imprison its victims in a cocoon of misery, degradation and a plethora of ills can none the less become a spring board for hope, salvation and God-consciousness. Many millions of poor people have been able to throw aside their poverty or at least transcend their poverty and gladly take hold of Christianity and commit to it with lifelong fidelity.
Jesus recognized the true situation and addressed the poor succinctly, "Blessed be ye poor for yours is the kingdom of God" (Luke 6:20). This is a very misunderstood scripture and it is nearly always used out of context. This scripture is not conferring a blessing on poverty but rather recognizing that poverty is a state of circumstances, a lack of resources not a longing of the heart or a desire of the mind aiming to generate and finesse human pride. What Jesus was saying here was something like, "count yourself happy in that you are not swimming in a sea of riches that can hold you tight and drown your soul whereas in contrast you can easily reach out and take hold of heaven."
Everyone tries to acquire the necessities of life so that he and his family can live with dignity and respect. During the process he may obtain wealth, even great wealth, and for many a rich folk something surprising happens; instead of he being the lord of his wealth somehow the wealth becomes his god and he its servant. How this transformation takes place is the substance of many debates and the plot of many novels but the worshipping of riches is not restricted to modern times.
Jesus gave a graphic account of just such a situation when he was addressing his disciples in Matthew chapter 19. Here are the relevant verses; "And, behold, one came and said unto him, Good Master, what good thing shall I do, that I may have eternal life? And he said unto him, Why callest thou me good? There is none good but one, that is, God: but if thou wilt enter into life, keep the commandments. He saith unto him, Which? Jesus said, Thou shalt do no murder, Thou shalt not commit adultery, Thou shalt not steal, Thou shalt not bear false witness, Honour thy father and thy mother: and, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. The young man saith unto him, All these things have I kept from my youth up: what lack I yet? Jesus said unto him, If thou wilt be perfect, go and sell that thou hast, and give to the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven: and come and follow me. But when the young man heard that saying, he went away sorrowful: for he had great possessions. Then said Jesus unto his disciples, Verily I say unto you, That a rich man shall hardly enter into the kingdom of heaven. And again I say unto you, It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of God." (Matthew 19:16-24) Here the man wanted to do right and acquire eternal life but his wealth became an irremovable stumbling block in his way.
Jesus' summation of the dire and ineffective struggles of the wealthy to enter heaven had shocked the disciples to their core and they contentiously asked, "So who then can be saved?" to which Jesus replied, "With man this is impossible but with God all things are possible." Jesus never said that the rich cannot get to heaven for we have it on record of very rich people being approved by God for example the super rich Job and the most excellent Barnabas who was reported to own the island of Cyprus. Jesus said how very difficult it was, how burdensome and how rare as stated here, "And Jesus looked round about, and saith unto his disciples, How hardly shall they that have riches enter into the kingdom of God!" (Mark 10:23)
So why is wealth so burdensome? Riches can be a quagmire that anchors the wealthy to its depth by an array of deadly personality anchors. Deadly personality anchors are traits of the ungodly and the unconverted that prevent them from living a life of godliness and annihilate their hope of redemption. Egocentricity, pride, arrogance, greed, lust for power and influence and idolatry are some of these defects. Beyond these personal imperfections lie a host of drawbacks, downsides and problems which the rich and wealthy live with day by day. Among the many burdens that afflict the rich and wealthy twelve are particularly notable.
Not in any particular order here are the twelve most prominent debilitating burdens of the rich and wealthy.
Burden number 1: You will be judged unfairly. Regardless of how you got your riches, but particularly if you got rich overnight, you will be judged harshly and unfairly by the rest of the community. If while driving, your posh car knocked down a pedestrian, especially in a poor neighborhood, then people are willing to drag you out and molest you for knocking down an innocent walker. No one bothers with the fact that the innocent civilian ran across the road without stopping. In any altercation, accident or incident you are judged to be wrong and trying to buy your way out or being domineering merely because you are rich. If you work in an office then your colleagues are warm and complementary to your face but behind your back they are harsh and critical. Many of them may applaud your wealth and influence, especially if you can impact their careers, but regard you as a rich twit and clueless. The truth is that they simply detest your wealth and will rejoice to see you fall flat on your well-pampered face.
Burden number 2: Everyone approaches you for help. Or so it seems for the number of people getting in touch with you by ordinary mail or e-mail or telephone or turning up on your doorstep is absolutely staggering. The sheer volume of these at times well deserving people puts you in a quandary. One of the problems here is that a polite rejection may be taken the wrong way and the person could become hostile and abusive. Another problem is that with so many people requesting help it is most difficult to know if you are helping the most deserving or simply the most persuasive. There is yet another problem here and it is this. Are you staffed to deal with such volumes of correspondence? Many rich people have no alternative but to employ additional staff, sometimes consultant staff, to deal with all this. Here arises another problem for if you are delegating staff to regulate what correspondence reaches you then you can easily be manipulated into doing what your staff wants rather than the other way round. For example your staff may readily bin those letters from people that can scarcely write, or whose writing is grammatically very poor or hard to read but these might be the very people most in need of your assistance and whom you may wish to help.
Burden number 3: You have acquired guilt. This is an enormous burden to bear because this impacts your psyche, peace of mind and even your self esteem. Following on from burden number two above it is absolutely the case that not everyone who seeks your assistance can or even should be helped. There will be many who are frauds, tricksters, outright liars and endeavoring to cheat you by bringing you into their scams. There are also many that you should help but funds are not unlimited and those you turn down, worthy though they undoubtedly are, can give you much guilt. You would not like to know that you refused help to a woman who was trying to get a life-saving operation for her child and the child subsequently died not having the operation. Or the man who asked for your help because he was at wits end to settle a debt and because he got no help committed suicide. The fact that these two individuals came to you and you had good reasons to think they were tricksters and therefore turned them down does not in any way lessen the impact. You might be a very compassionate person but guilt acquired like this is often brutal, very impactful and can interfere with your sleep, concentration and even your normal day to day mood. This kind of guilt, in order to erase it, may need professional spiritual or psychiatric counseling over a period of time.
Burden number 4: People expect better/costlier gifts. This is nearly always the case and failure to recognize this fact not only adds to people's resentment and criticism of you but to a few epithets behind your back as well. As always people who are more enlightened will offer you no criticism for your gifts because they understand that a gift is never an obligation and in any case it is the thought that counts. However there are many, especially family and close friends, who will criticize you as stingy, a skinflint and tight-fisted, cheap and mean-spirited if you do not measure up to their expectations. This can be very stressful because it means that on occasion you cannot buy that fancy trinket that has caught your eye, or you can't purchase that discounted but fascinating little item. I know that some people when you give them a gift will walk around stores looking for that same gift just to see what it cost. And whatever you do, do not buy anyone costume jewelry; not even studs for your dog's collar for if it learns that it is costume jewelry it is certainly going to be spiteful and take the first opportunity to bite you.
Burden number 5: You change your outlook. This is not always a bad thing for you may very well change your outlook for the better; you might become more humane and compassionate. The change that usually takes place however is negative, cautious and has more to do with risk-avoidance. In life a certain amount of risk taking is healthy and normal; just think of the many pioneers who took great risk to open up the American West, or those who brought Christianity to the East, or the many entrepreneurs who risked everything they had to make some product or perfect some procedure. People who are rich on the whole tend to be cautious, sometimes unnecessarily so, and go to extraordinary lengths to protect what they have. This outlook brings further problems because it makes the rich jittery about the stock market and other investments and sometimes it leads to psychosis because they think every setback is someone scheming to undo them.
Burden number 6: Your money may kill your ambitions. Many people start out in life with noble ambition and then they get rich and that ambition disappears. This can happen with people who have acquired their wealth slowly but especially so with those who got rich overnight either through inheritance or luck, like winning the lottery. Sudden wealth is nearly always a bad thing and the newly rich is never prepared for all its ramifications. You only have to look around and see the disastrous consequences of the freshly rich to see my point and the mass media is full of their misdeeds. It is not unknown for gifted students, halfway into their medical studies, who aspire to become surgeons and doctors suddenly acquire wealth and quit their studies for good. Even Nobel Prize winners have been known to quit their organization and moved on with the money rather than donate it to the organization, or part thereof, and continue doing their work.
Burden number 7: Time consuming maintenance. This is one of the burdens that is off the horizon until riches arrive. The middle class man with one house and one car finds maintenance tedious and a drawback. The rich often has many houses with large grounds, yachts, several cars and an array of personal possession at home and abroad and all requiring specialist maintenance. Add such things as vineyards, castles and chateaus, private jets and the like and looking after these possessions from a maintenance perspective becomes a full time job. Even if the wealth is huge and full time staff are essential to manage the portfolio it is still an enormous burden to supervise the supervisors and have peace of mind that your wealth is being protected and preserved.
Burden number 8: Increase wealth brings increase worries. The more wealth you have the more worries you will also have for they go hand in hand. Someone once advised that as soon as you acquire your first few millions then stop acquiring more. This is easy to say but monstrously difficult to do. Many rich people already have more than their can use in many lifetimes but they still pursue more and sometimes with great passion. They are many rich people on hearing that Bernie Madoff was doing a Ponzi scheme and was broke was quite suicidal and I understand several went for psychiatric counseling. Rich people are worried constantly about the stock market, or the exchange rates, or inflation, or commodity prices, or property prices, or economic slowdown or any number of things and we know from numerous studies that worries has sleep and health implications and can take years off your lifespan.
Burden number 9: Trusting people becomes problematic. Even if you are not rich knowing whom to trust is a problem but when you are rich the problem is enormous. This is so because no man is an island and whereas the average person needs few people around him that is not so when you are rich. The rich live a life of permanent auditioning, or so it seems, for they attract multitudes of actors all masquerading in the part that they think will be most effective in getting them what they want. Family whom you never knew existed will contact you and are concerned solely with their needs and their agenda and have no sympathy or concern with your needs and previously never cared if you lived or died, long forgotten friends who through the years never bothered to contact you for whatever reasons now find you indispensable. Many will contact you with hare-brained ideas wrapped up in sophisticated speak, some will want to give you advice and pretend they are independent professionals and then they are the investment brokers, the tax specialist, the fund managers, the property experts and lots of others all wanting to get their hands on your money. The bottom line is that most people coming to you care nothing about you and all they are interested in is your money and how they can exploit you for their gain. A good rule of thumb here is to trust those whom you trusted before you got rich and never forget those friends who stuck by you when you had nothing or very little.
Burden number 10: Your money may not make you happy. This is perhaps one of the biggest delusions of those wannabe rich, and it transcends all nationalities and cultures across the universe. People universally see riches and happiness as virtually the same thing and yet nearly everyone who has studied the subject, and many of the rich themselves, will tell you that they are not. Money and wealth are about comfort, meeting needs and wants, gaining influence and power and above all consumerism; nowhere in this package is happiness. A person can scarcely be happy when he knows he cannot really trust those around him, when he knows, given the opportunity, that they will do him in and take his money, when he knows they are saying things just to please him to ingratiate themselves with him, when they might be spying on him, cheating him and generally using him as agenda fodder. Even the process of seeking a partner in life becomes challenging because once you are rich the gold diggers come out of the woodwork and they are experts in charming their way into your finances. Over and above all this the rich and wealthy live on the edge; they live too fast, eat too much, drink too much and are addicted to extremes and as a result ordinary happiness evades them. Depression, drug addiction, insomnia and paranoia are constant companions of the rich and many of them are bitter because they have achieved so much only to find that the most important thing eludes them.
Burden number 11: Your security diminishes. You are unlikely to go at any rich person's home and not find a plethora of security systems in place. Most rich people's home is a virtual fortress; security cameras, trip wires, alarm bells, pressure pads, laser beams, security patrols and such like, all geared to keeping them safe and secure. Away from the home the rich travel always with security in mind ever aware that there are so many persons who would want to assault them or take them captive and exhort money. It has been known that the rich's dedicated, personal, security staff have set them up for robbery and extortion. This feeds into my observation as per number 9 above about trusting people. The average person is not targeted for kidnap and extortion, neither are they of interest to the professional criminal or gangster thug who are after rich pickings. Because the rich is so juicy a target, paranoia can set in, nerves can be easily jangled; they sleep as the saying goes "with one eye opened" and they are ever conscious that something dramatic can occur at any moment. Even if you are only moderately rich and live in a slightly bigger house and drive a better quality car you are still targeted by burglars and car thieves and hence need to resort to checking out house and car security systems and be on the alert for the occasional mugger.
Burden number 12: Keeping up with the Joneses. Being rich is not some benign state of isolated existence but rather one that has lots of dynamics attached; one of which is that you are elevated into a higher economic bracket. It is certain that in this new bracket you will meet and befriend people who are very wealthy; many will be wealthier than you and have been for much longer. You see what they have, where they go, what they wear and you try to keep up so that you may fit in seamlessly. This means that if they have summer mansions in several countries then you can't be seen to be different so you go and buy summer houses in other countries as well and that is the pattern for keeping up with the Joneses. In truth this is nothing more than naked pride and common greed for there are many rich people who do not follow this pattern and has no interest in keeping up with the jet-set. It is here that rich folks separate themselves into two distinct groups; one who sees riches and wealth as a supplement to their life and a worthwhile achievement and the other who regards wealth as complementary and defines who they are. The Bible cautions those in the latter group in these words, "Then he said to them, Watch out! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; a man's life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions" (Luke 12:15, NIV).
So what should people do who are rich and wealthy since burdens (but not responsibility) are nearly always best discarded? The answer is to do like the super-rich group of philanthropists are doing; Bill Gates, Warren Buffet, et al and devote your money constructively to helping the poor and needy. There are lots of good, decent people the world over who are stuck, many times through no fault of theirs, in poverty and degradation and just need a little help to make something of their life. Many are the stories told by people of accomplishment relating that had not for a helping hand they too would never have succeeded. When you are dead, all the money gone, all property disposed of, all achievements and accomplishments long forgotten then the only lasting thing of significance that will resound through time will be the immortal words of Jesus Christ, "And the King shall answer and say unto them, Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me." (Matthew 25:40)
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Dr. Henderson Ward received his Doctor of Divinity in theology, with distinction, from Masters International School of Divinity, USA, where he is currently a post-doctoral fellow. Dr. Ward's career involved pastoring, evangelism, and teaching. Copyright 2013