Summary: What is there left to trust in a world that appears to be in complete meltdown?
What in the world is happening?
Over the past few weeks, despite some ups and downs, investors around the world have lost over 70 trillion Rand! That’s 70 with 12 noughts added or, to put it another way, it’s over 20 times greater than the value of all goods and services produced in South Africa last year! For some of us that may be a meaningless number, just too large to contemplate. It is just another headline among many others that scream from the pages of the financial press. But for others it is a far more tragic story. It means the loss of a job as factories and shops shut their doors. It means the loss of a pension as investments shrink. To some it means the loss of a roof over their head as they are no longer able to keep up their monthly instalments. The worldwide credit crunch, far from being something that has upset the worldwide economy, is something that has literally invaded their homes and their lives. And in many households in this country and right around the world the question is being asked over and over again – why? Why is this happening?
Even as recently as June this year world stock markets were hovering at record highs. Now, less than 5 months later, we hear the Head of the International Monetary Fund talking of a global financial meltdown. And to make matters worse we see world leaders appear powerless to stop situation, despite their best efforts.
So why is it happening – what’s changed to reverse a trend towards riches which seemed inevitable and unstoppable? Well I make no claim to be a financial guru, (something you may wish to confirm with my bank manager!) but for me it resolves itself to two issues which have nothing to do with money itself – but have everything to do with human nature. The first of these issues is greed. And the second is trust.
As human beings we have always wanted what we cannot have. Whether you believe the Adam and Eve story to be literal or an allegory to explain the nature of humanity, its fundamental premise is true. God said we shouldn’t eat the apple – so we went ahead and ate it anyway. No-one, not even God, was going to deny us something we wanted. The apples we want to eat today may have changed a little – today they are a flashy new car, a bigger house, a diamond ring, a better overseas holiday. In and of themselves there is nothing wrong with any of these things – let me repeat that in case someone leaves here saying Lew said we shouldn’t buy a new car or take a holiday – there is nothing wrong with buying a new car or travelling to Europe. It’s when these things become too important in our lives – when, like the apple, we have to eat them. It’s when we are prepared to compromise our integrity to get them, as many of the world’s financial
institutions and leaders have done, that they take on the mantle of greed.
The Bible never said ‘money is the root of all evil’ as is so often quoted. What Paul, in writing his first letter to his good friend Timothy, actually said was, “The love of money is the root of all kinds of evil.”
And there is more than a subtle difference between these two phrases.
The first one implies that money, that stuff which we use to denote value, is somehow dirty and sullied. Although it’s true that I wouldn’t want to eat my dinner off many of the crumpled notes that pass through my hands, it is nevertheless patently untrue that money is intrinsically evil. It is a meaningful and valid indicator of value and without it we would be unable to maintain the relationships which ensure, at least for most of us, that we have a roof over our heads and food on our table.
What Paul was saying is that money leads to evil when we lose perspective and elevate it to a priority in our lives. In Matthew’s gospel we hear Jesus say the same thing in these words, “No-one can serve two masters. Either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money.” Again let’s not jump to conclusions about what Jesus is saying. He is certainly not saying that you cannot earn money or maintain a healthy bank balance if you’re a Christian. What he is saying however is that you cannot be a servant to money. Let’s look at that a little closer and ask ourselves a few questions. How important is it to you how much money you have? Does it affect how you think and feel? Do you regard money as somehow being a measure of your worth? Do you think that possessions are important to the way other people see you? The answers you give to these questions are a good indicator of the perspective you have on money.