Over the last 48 hours, the U.S. stock market has been sent to a tailspin by a small army of savvy Redditors with a little economic know-how and a puckish love of trouble. As you’ve no doubt heard, an organized effort to juice the financial fortunes of ’90s shopping mall leftover Gamestop has resulted in a nigh-unprecedented stock market extravaganza, with legacy hedge funds plummeting and amateur traders amassing small fortunes as Gamestop’s market value shot up from 2 billion to over 24 billion in a couple of days. The New York Times found multiple people who’ve made four or five-digit earnings in about a week’s time, including one California pastor who raked in a relatively modest $1,700.
The details are a bit technical (here’s a clear and succinct explainer) but the impact could be a significant turning point in the way we think about the global economy. After decades of growing income inequality, some of the systems that have traditionally protected the financial fortunes of the one percent suddenly don’t look quite so formidable. That could end up being good news for people who are struggling. For those looking to get rich, it raises an old tension: Is it OK to want to be rich?
As members of the Church, we’ve all been exposed to various levels of teachings on prosperity and blessings. Honestly, all of the talk gets kind of confusing after a while. There are extremes on both sides—from those who believe that God wants to make us materially wealthy and that suffering means you aren’t right with God, to those who believe that material wealth is evil and we are only guaranteed trials this side of eternity.
What’s tricky is that everyone seems to have a verse to back up their beliefs. So what is the truth? If the Bible says, “We rejoice in our sufferings (Romans 5:3),” and also, “Test me in this … and see if I will not throw open the floodgates of heaven and pour out so much blessing that you will not have room enough for it (Malachi 3:10),” then what can we really expect in this lifetime in regard to prosperity and wealth?
Here are three points that have helped me find greater clarity when it comes to the complicated relationship between money and faith:
1. Our earthly possessions aren’t inherently sinful, but they are temporary.
In Matthew 19, Jesus was approached by a wealthy man who asked him, “What must I do to inherit eternal life?” The man tells Jesus that he has already followed the commands of the law and asks, “What still do I lack?” Jesus responds, “If you want to be perfect, go, sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.” The man left upset because he was rich, and Jesus told His disciples, “I tell you the truth, it is hard for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven. Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God.”
Many people interpret this passage to mean that rich people can’t enter heaven. We picture the tiny eye of a sewing needle and think about how impossible it would be to put any human being through that small hole. But in his Companion Bible, E.W. Bullinger explains what Jesus was really referring to: “the eye of the needle, a small door fixed in a gate and opened after dark. To pass through, the camel must be unloaded. Hence the difficulty of the rich man. He must be unloaded … ”
Entering heaven is like entering through this small door. If we are carrying all of our possessions with us and are unwilling to lay them down, we will not be able to pass through. I love the way Bullinger words it: He must be unloaded. In order to enter heaven, we all must be unloaded of our possessions in order to enter the narrow gate and receive the real blessings on the other side.
2. When you “count everything as loss,” you become more thankful for your material wealth, but also less attached to it.
Most of us know of the passage in Philippians 3:7-8, where Paul writes, “But whatever was to my profit I now consider loss for the sake of Christ.” In my life, “considering everything as loss” was a process of giving up the temporary joy that I found in my “stuff.” It wasn’t an especially pleasurable process. For a while, I felt like nothing around me could make me happy ever again—until I realized how much joy could be found in Christ. Now, the joy that I find in my possessions is in knowing that anything that I do have is simply a physical expression of God’s love for me. I enjoy my things more now, because the love that they display to me will last much longer than they will. At any moment, I’m willing to surrender any of these things to God for His purpose, because really, they all belong to Him.
3. Suffering is a blessing.
I think that when we go through trials or when God calls us to give things up for Him, we get it in our head that we are doing this 1) to make ourselves worthy before God or 2) to prove our love to Him. But the truth is that your greatest, grandest sacrifice does absolutely nothing to earn favor from God. In fact, such thinking shows that our view of God is far lower than it should be. If God is set apart and holy, then we could never work hard enough to earn right standing with Him. That’s why Jesus had to die. His once and for all sacrifice means that anything we do now to serve God couldn’t possibly be for the purpose of earning our place.
So then, why do we suffer? I don’t wholly know the answer to that, but I do know that in our suffering, it is God’s overwhelming love for us that allows us to be transformed. God wants to bless us, but our hearts are so hardened, especially to the spiritual things that He desires to give us. If He were to reveal everything He has for us, we would not be able to receive or understand it. So suffering becomes the training ground; it retrains our hearts and prepares us to receive the good things He has in store.
Does God want to bless you? I believe He does. His desire is to “pour out so much blessing that you will not have room enough for it.” This doesn’t look exactly the same for everyone, and blessing is not a synonym for wealth, so we can’t measure it simply by comparing bank accounts. While He does meet our needs and provide us with material things, I believe we’ll discover that the spiritual blessings of experiencing His love and living it out in our lives are the most satisfying blessings we could receive.