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Neither poverty nor riches

May 9, 2008

Agur didn’t live in the age of the information superhighway, but he knew the source of his daily bread. According to demographic statistics a fingertip’s touch away, or in my case beneath a failing motherboard, this is more than most people know today.

The lady dancing in front of her plasma TV, drink in hand, still comes up on my Yahoo! opening page, ready to claim her sub-prime half-million-dollar-plus mortgage: another just like the hundreds of thousands of mortgages that brought every sector of the American economy to its proverbial knees.

People who were simply unready to own homes turned to the only source willing and able to coerce materialization of their dream: their government. When thin becomes gaunt, the gaunt bellow for subsidies. And they get them.

The American dream of home ownership was premised in the notion that one could work and be prudent with his earnings and buy a home. This stood in contrast to still-prevailing conditions in many places where one could work himself to death and never hope to own anything. America renewed the notion that a man worked for what he got, and had a right to what he worked for. The distorted view is that one has a right to what is possible–and after all, in the post-modern worldview, anything is possible.

Most people who bought homes with sub-prime mortgages had jobs. Some had homes that they collateralized into nothing. Bad credit was the key. Bad credit is not a fruit of prudence. Bad credit is the foreseeable consequence of violation of the Tenth Commandment.

So here we all are, watching prices rise, hopes fall, and disillusionment displace dreams. Why is this so?

If you live in South Carolina and wonder why it suddenly seems that you are living in a Chinese colony, find out why here.

Trade defines dollar values. When we sell less than we buy, our currency drops in value. When that happens, prices around us rise in relation to our ability to purchase anything. But there is a remedy. The people making all the stuff you buy now have all your dollars, and they are ready, willing, and able to invest them in your community. They live in other countries, and you work for them in your own community. While we’ve been buying their cheap souvenir keychains and glitchy cell phones, they’ve been buying our towns and deserted factories.

It’s scarcely odd that the colonization of a devalued America coincides with the secularization of America. People have systematically turned to government instead of religion, because they want material, not spiritual help; and government has been more than willing to stand in the place of God and His church. Moreover, it is not the place of the church to take care of the world. It is the place of a man to take care of his family, it is the place of the world to take care of the world, and it is the place of the church to take care of the church. Problems now seem more widespread because, sadly, the church is not.

Christopher K. Lensch, in an article titled, “Old Testament Property Stewardship: An Opportunity and an Obligation,” (The WRS Journal, Vol. 15:1, Feb. 2008, pp. 10-11) writes,

“Sadly, big government welfare has usurped the charitable role that local religious groups used to oversee. Before the era of state interventionism, hospitals, orphanages, and other relief agencies were managed by churches and synagogues. Today the federal government, under a loose interpretation of the “general welfare” clause of the Constitution, has become more than an economic safety net for its inhabitants–it has turned into a cash cow for welfare queens; it has locked needy families in a cycle of dependence; and it has bought votes for officials promising greater handouts. . . .

“Of course, no government is the ultimate benefactor of the poor. Government does not provide for the poor, but taxpayers do. As taxes grow with ballooning entitlements, some citizens, even with a generous heart, begin to think in terms of suffering because of the poor instead of suffering with the poor.”

Under the law as God commanded it, writes Dr. John A. Battle (“Property Rights and Responsibilities in the Old Testament,” WRS Journal, 15:1, Feb. 2008, p. 19), the guiding principles for dealing with one another, both in hard and in prosperous times, are “inherent in the relation humans sustain to each other as created in the image of God.”  Dr. Battle notes the proper attitude toward property as being, “diligence of labor and enterprise complemented by contentment and generosity. The OT assumes and approves of a society in which rich and poor dwell together” (Ibid., p. 22).

So, of course, does the New Testament.

Egalitarianism and covetousness go hand in hand. Both imply that we deserve what others have simply because they have it. Egalitarianism is a powerful, a very powerful, force; however, its power can only be expressed downward. The have-nots can only pull the haves down.

Declining modesty also partners with covetousness. We want to have stuff, and we want others to see what we have. Spot the trends and see the answers to the question I raised earlier, “why is this so?”

Agur asked his God, not his government, for his daily portion. Of course, in Agur’s day, God was the acknowledged head of state to whom the king was answerable. So Agur recorded two things he required of his God:

Remove far from me vanity and lies: give me neither poverty nor riches; feed me with food convenient for me:

Lest I be full, and deny thee, and say, Who is the Lord? or lest I be poor, and steal, and take the name of my God in vain.–Proverbs 30:8-9  

My pastor said recently that poverty is not a sin, but negligent poverty, the fruit of imprudence and indolence, is a sin. Ultimately negligent poverty is theft, because it drains the fruits of others’ prudence and industry. Welfare promotes negligent poverty. It enriches no one, and it subverts charity because no one has anything left to give.

So that’s what I’ve been meaning to tell the lady dancing in front of her plasma TV, drink in hand, taking out a mortgage I couldn’t prudently afford, on my tab and yours. 

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2 Comments
  1. Jane permalink
    May 10, 2008 7:53 am

    Wow, Lauren, this is a zinger. Extremely well said.

  2. May 12, 2008 9:47 am

    In the Lord’s Prayer Jesus ratifies the message of Agur:
    “feed me with food convenient for me” = “give us this day our daily bread” and
    “Lest I be full, and deny thee, … or lest I be poor, and… take the name of my God in vain” = “lead us not into temptation.”
    Hence, Jesus (like Agur) puts even our material aspirations in a larger spiritual context of our relation to God.

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