The poisonous pursuit of wealth and the good life:
In 1964 the Beatles sang about love and money. Old guys like me certainly remember “Can’t Buy Me Love”. One verse of it goes like this:
I’ll give you all I’ve got to give
If you say you love me too
I may not have a lot to give
But what I’ve got I’ll give to you
I don’t care too much for money
Money can’t buy me love
Yes, money cannot buy most things of real value – love included. A little while ago I wrote a piece in which I asked this question: ‘What would you do if you suddenly became quite wealthy?” I discussed what I might do if it were to happen to me, and I also recorded the story of one person who won a large amount of money, only to give most of it away to those in need. As I said in the piece:
Well, that is one case of someone not being totally consumed with self and living the good life. And we know that money can cause all sorts of problems. We also read media accounts of a family being torn apart after a big financial windfall comes their way and they fight over it. And the same can happen as a will is contested. There are plenty of those horror stories to be found. https://billmuehlenberg.com/2023/09/10/and-what-would-you-do/
Just yesterday I came upon another news item discussing someone who had won big in the lottery. I note that it actually was first reported a year ago, but it is still worth discussing. The news story is brief enough to offer it in its entirety:
One of the UK’s biggest lottery winners burned through a mind-blowing $50 million in eight years — splurging on a soccer team, race horses, and extravagant cars — before his luck ran out, documents revealed Thursday. Colin Weir, of North Ayrshire, Scotland, spent a stunning $131,000 per week after winning a record-breaking $257.6 million EuroMillions jackpot in 2011, according to The Independent.
Weir, a former cameraman married to a nurse, bought a 55 percent share in Glasgow’s Partick Thistle Football Club before he died of sepsis at age 72 in 2019, the outlet reported. The big spender also plunked down big bucks for a vintage Bentley Arnage, Jaguar F-Pace SUV, and a Mercedes-Benz E Class Estate, according to The Independent. Along with a $6 million home he reportedly spent millions more to renovate, Weir also snapped up three prized racing thoroughbreds, including an Irish mare named If You Say Run.
But the lottery curse reared its head in 2018, when he divorced his wife, Chris, after nearly four decades of marriage — and she took much of his fortune, according to The Independent. All told, Weir ended up spending an average of $131,900 per week on luxury items and investments before suffering from the kidney failure that led to his death. At the time he won the lottery, he was the second-biggest EuroMillions winner ever. https://nypost.com/2023/01/26/record-breaking-scottish-lottery-winner-colin-weir-blew-through-50m-before-death/
Wow, so there you have all the crazy details: a $50 million dollar win, all spent like there is no tomorrow. Some $132,000 spent every week. Yet his marriage fell apart and his life came to an end soon thereafter. Hmm, why does such a tale remind us of several important things Jesus had said?
The first is from Luke 12:13-21 where we read about ‘The Parable of the Rich Fool’. It says this:
Someone in the crowd said to him, “Teacher, tell my brother to divide the inheritance with me.” But he said to him, “Man, who made me a judge or arbitrator over you?” And he said to them, “Take care, and be on your guard against all covetousness, for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions.” And he told them a parable, saying, “The land of a rich man produced plentifully, and he thought to himself, ‘What shall I do, for I have nowhere to store my crops?’ And he said, ‘I will do this: I will tear down my barns and build larger ones, and there I will store all my grain and my goods. And I will say to my soul, “Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; relax, eat, drink, be merry.”’ But God said to him, ‘Fool! This night your soul is required of you, and the things you have prepared, whose will they be?’ So is the one who lays up treasure for himself and is not rich toward God.”
Yep, that is a pretty good definition of a fool. One can argue that the Scottish man I discussed above was also in this same category: a fool who so loved money and what it could buy, that he may well have missed out on all that is really important in life, including his own soul.
That leads to the second famous passage – this one coming from Mark 8:34-38:
And calling the crowd to him with his disciples, he said to them, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospel’s will save it. For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world and forfeit his soul? For what can a man give in return for his soul? For whoever is ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of him will the Son of Man also be ashamed when he comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels.”
The guy with the $50 mil certainly gained the whole world – or at least big, expensive hunks of it. But what was the condition of his soul? We are not told in the news item of course so we can only speculate. Was there a death-bed conversion or some such thing? We just do not know.
But the numerous warnings about wealth in Scripture really need to be taken seriously – Christians included. Indeed, of the many strong warnings about this found in the Bible, let me speak to just two of them – both from Deuteronomy. They warn about how our prosperity and life of ease can become a huge stumbling block:
Deuteronomy 6:10-12: When the LORD your God brings you into the land he swore to your fathers, to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, to give you–a land with large, flourishing cities you did not build, houses filled with all kinds of good things you did not provide, wells you did not dig, and vineyards and olive groves you did not plant–then when you eat and are satisfied, be careful that you do not forget the LORD, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery.
Deuteronomy 8:10-18: When you have eaten and are satisfied, praise the LORD your God for the good land he has given you. Be careful that you do not forget the LORD your God, failing to observe his commands, his laws and his decrees that I am giving you this day. Otherwise, when you eat and are satisfied, when you build fine houses and settle down, and when your herds and flocks grow large and your silver and gold increase and all you have is multiplied, then your heart will become proud and you will forget the LORD your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery. He led you through the vast and dreadful desert, that thirsty and waterless land, with its venomous snakes and scorpions. He brought you water out of hard rock. He gave you manna to eat in the desert, something your fathers had never known, to humble and to test you so that in the end it might go well with you. You may say to yourself, “My power and the strength of my hands have produced this wealth for me.” But remember the LORD your God, for it is he who gives you the ability to produce wealth, and so confirms his covenant, which he swore to your forefathers, as it is today.
Forgetting God can easily happen if we are not careful with wealth. And it is the greed and covetousness that lies behind all this that is such a sin. While riches can be used rightly and in a godly fashion, we know of course that the misuse and abuse of riches springs from covetousness, a violation of the Tenth Commandment.
The words of James come to mind here: “What causes quarrels and what causes fights among you? Is it not this, that your passions are at war within you? You desire and do not have, so you murder. You covet and cannot obtain, so you fight and quarrel. You do not have, because you do not ask. You ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly, to spend it on your passions” (James 4:1-3).
And verses 13-16 of the same chapter could also be applied to people like the Scottish big-spender: “Come now, you who say, ‘Today or tomorrow we will go into such and such a town and spend a year there and trade and make a profit’—yet you do not know what tomorrow will bring. What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes. Instead you ought to say, “If the Lord wills, we will live and do this or that.” As it is, you boast in your arrogance. All such boasting is evil.”
As is always the case, we all need to take these words to heart, and let them become a part of our lives BEFORE any great temptation comes our way. In this regard, the question I asked in my previous article is still worth meditating on now: “How would you react if you suddenly became wealthy?”
Bill Muehlenberg teaches ethics, apologetics and theology at several Melbourne Bible Colleges. His independent blog, Culture Watch, has over 5,000 articles commenting on the major cultural, social and political issues of the day. Bill's podcast is exclusively produced for Good Sauce readers and fans.
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