Giving regularly goes hand-in-hand with saving regularly. They are both acts of faith, since they both demonstrate the conviction that the future can be controlled and improved. Giving also connects us with and encourages us to place our trust in others. Giving is good for the soul and other living things.
A longtime subscriber to LifeTrek Provisions, a close personal friend, and a dedicated Christian replied with a strong objection to the current series on the meaning and management of money. “The current preoccupation with acquiring more and more wealth,” writes my friend, “the unquestioning acceptance of a global free-market economy, and the widening gap between rich and poor that inevitably results from a profit-driven, competitive model of human relations is at odds with the New Testament ethic of sacrifice, simplicity and shared love.”
My friend also asserted that the way to true security is not “to store up riches on earth, but to store them up in heaven.” God takes care of those who care for God. My friend expressed the concern that the current series of Provisions was losing sight of this perspective, falling prey to the cultural presumption of the accumulation of money as an all-important value.
This objection deserves a thoughtful reply. It should, perhaps, be pointed out that my friend’s critique is not limited to the Christian worldview. Capitalism comes under fire from a wide variety of religious and secular viewpoints. With the collapse of the Soviet Union, capitalism has been running rampant around the globe, leaving no economy unaffected. The “widening gap between rich and poor” is a well-documented and troubling fact.
It should also be pointed out that voluntary poverty is the logical conclusion of my friend’s perspective. This represents, in fact, a basic tenet of the monastic way. Entire communities, as well as some heroic individuals, have lived throughout history without regard for the things of this world in order to stand in solidarity with the poor and to rely in perpetuity on the blessings of God. These people act courageously and tap into a deeper perspective far more often than most.
I do not deny the power of such systemic and spiritual responses to the problems of human existence. Most of us, however, my friend included, have not chosen to live in poverty as an expression of our trust in God. And most of us will not live to see the demise of capitalism, whether we view that as desirable or not. The global free-market economy is what it is, and change will come slowly if I read history and understand politics correctly.
So what’s a person to do? That’s been the focus of this series on the meaning and management of money, from the vantage point of one humble observer. I have, in fact, challenged our unquestioned participation in the consumer economy. The earn-and-spend pipeline turns out to lose more than it carries. There is no escape other than to plug the leaks • or to throw ourselves on the mercies of God. But to think that God will care for us like the birds of the air and the lilies of the field, as we mindlessly consume an ever-larger share of the world’s precious resources, is to take my friend’s point in a direction that defies both sense and sensibility. Here my friend and I no doubt agree.
What happens to our money after we plug the leaks? I have been arguing for the importance of saving and investing in the future. As Paul Zane Pilzer points out in his book God Wants You To Be Rich: The Theology of Economics (Click), saving is not just good business • it’s an act of faith, “a form of self-denial that expresses confidence in the future. A person who denies current comfort and pleasure for future happiness is demonstrating his or her belief in a destiny that can be controlled and improved.” Perhaps that’s why, in the century of the social gospel, the first modern savings institution was developed by a church in 1810 • to provide parishioners with a way of accumulating modest wealth to improve their lives and the futures of their children.
I have enough confidence in the ways of God to trust they have a place in human history. The world’s problems notwithstanding, I believe we have a future. I also believe we have the ability as well as the responsibility to prepare for that future by saving regularly and investing the balance. There is a fine line between stewardship and greed, but it does exist.
One of the ways to walk that line is to give money as regularly as we save money. The two are not incompatible, and may actually be inextricably intertwined. Saving money is not the only way to care for our future and the future of our children. Giving money to causes and people who work for a better world does the same thing, only in a different way. It also serves to remind us that we are not alone. We stand on and rub the shoulders of a great multitude, much of it sweating and striving for survival.
It is heartening to see the growth of organizations such as Responsible Wealth (Click), which makes this connection for some of the world’s richest citizens. Not only does it assist them to give their money away, it also involves them in advocacy for progressive taxation and livable wages. In other words, it moves the wealthy from charity to justice in ways that may seem both surprising and contradictory.
But once we “get” the connection between giving and saving, it becomes obvious that the good of the one depends upon the good of the many. We are one people, one world, and one future estate. It behooves us to care for ourselves and for others. In my estimation, it’s not impossible to do both. The sooner we get in the habit, the better.