Wealth, Security and Charity
For when you have become full and prosperous and have built fine homes to live in, and when your flocks and herds have become very large and your silver and gold have multiplied along with everything else, be careful! Do not become proud at that time and forget the Lord your God, who rescued you from slavery in the land of Egypt…. [Deuteronomy 8:12-14].
How do we maintain humility and preserve compassion amidst affluence and success? When we are standing higher than our peers, enjoying great prosperity, and soaking in confidence and prestige, can we ground our thoughts, words and deeds on solid wisdom and spiritual understanding. In short, do we forget God because of our wealth?
Theirs is an endless road, a hopeless maze, who seek for goods before they seek for God. [St. Bernard of Clairvaux].
Wealth can be a source of security and a source of anxiety, of pleasure and of fear. With it, we don’t have to worry about food, clothing and shelter. We can also exploit our wealth to get privileges, prestige and admiration.
However, we may also find ourselves constantly worrying that our possessions will decrease, that our comforts will become hardships, or that others will take from us what we have.
Wealth, accumulated in significant quantities, demands its own protection. To safeguard it, we expend considerable physical and mental resources, at times resembling military armaments and strategies.
In our efforts to protect and keep our property and maintain our lifestyle, we often neglect Divine guidance and thereby lose our peace of mind.
Wearing fine clothes, Bearing sharp swords, Glutting with food and drink, Hoarding wealth and possessions; These are the ways of theft, And distant from the Way. [Tao Te Ching].
The passions, desires and lusts bred by wealth and power are notorious. They delude and destroy the illustrious, the famous and the revered.
But those who desire to be rich fall into temptation, into a snare, into many senseless and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction [1 Timothy 6:9 ESV].
History, as well as our modern media, is replete with tragic heroes whose downfalls were rooted the arrogance, lust and conceit, products of their wealth and greed.
To free us from fears and to soften our hearts, faith offers a reality that transcends materiality. Without a spiritual component in our lives, we are left with little more than our decaying carcass and a worthless storehouse of rust and stubble.
KNOW that the life of this world is but a play and a passing delight, and a beautiful show, and [the cause of] your boastful vying with one another, and [of your] greed for more and more riches and children. Its parable is that of [life-giving] rain: the herbage which it causes to grow delights the tillers of the soil; but then it withers, and thou canst see it turn yellow; and in the end it crumbles into dust. But [the abiding truth of man’s condition will become fully apparent] in the life to come: [either] suffering severe, or God’s forgiveness and His goodly acceptance: for the life of this world is nothing but an enjoyment of self-delusion.. [Quran 57:20].
Long-term Spiritual Investments
Are we enjoying the social and economic status that accompany the financial success we sought so eagerly, sometimes desperately? Are the results what we expected? Have we attained our goals, or merely magnified our desires, envy and frustration?
I can still hear you say: “Look at those who want to become rich, and see how they toil to obtain money. Now, my little Thérèse, through every moment of the day and with far less trouble, we can lay up riches in Heaven. Diamonds are so plentiful, we can gather them together as with a rake, and we do this by performing all our actions for the love of God.” Then I would leave you, my heart overflowing with joy, and fully bent on amassing great wealth. [The Story of a Soul: The Autobiography of St. Thérèse of Lisieux, Letter to Sister Mary of the Sacred Heart, III ].
With of God’s help, we can sever the chains binding us to possessions. An eternal inheritance awaits us when we are unburdened of selfish desires and live in the world serving God.
Whatever is done without faith whether it is sacrifice, charity, austerity, or any other act is useless. It has no value here or hereafter … [Bhagavad Gita 17.28].
Charity purifies our wealth. Generosity enhances our appreciation of it. Giving to others is Divinely favored. Knowing and remembering all this helps us order our life’s priorities.
Sell your possessions and give [charity] to the poor. Provide purses for yourselves that will not wear out, a treasure in heaven that will not be exhausted, where no thief comes near and no moth destroys. [Luke 12:33].
When we increase our charity and generosity, we diminish our anxiety about losing material possessions. We thereby improve our physical as well as our spiritual health, while enjoying true satisfaction from our wealth.
Those who spend their wealth for increase in self-purification, And have in their minds no favour from anyone for which a reward is expected in return, But only the desire to seek for the Countenance of their Lord Most High; And soon will they attain (complete) satisfaction. [Quran 92:18-21].
Moreover, what we give in charity is an investment without risk, guaranteed to multiply in value. It is registered in our account with our Lord, paying regular dividends and offering immediate profits. It not only soothes our soul, but also protects our interest in the hereafter.
Give, and you will receive. Your gift will return to you in full — pressed down, shaken together to make room for more, running over, and poured into your lap. The amount you give will determine the amount you get back. [Luke 6:38].
Give from What You Love
We must develop the spiritual sensitivity that prods us to give to others of what we love. Piety cannot be attained only by rituals and formalities. We must grow to understand that what we give in charity endures — preserved by our Lord.
By no means shall you attain righteousness unless you spend [in charity] of that which you love. [Quran 3:92].
Through charity, our heart softens with kindness that sooth our mind. We discard the superfluous burdens weighing down our existence. We are freed of the material excesses and uncontrolled craving that keep us chained to a physical reality.
Where there is charity and wisdom, there is neither fear nor ignorance. [St. Francis of Assisi].
The gratitude on the lips of the impoverished, the appreciation in the eyes of the needy, the thankfulness of the heart of hopeless, they all combine to secure a safe abode for our mind and a comfortable resting place for our soul.
The very enjoyment which is in the love of doing good, without the end of recompense, is a reward which remains forever; for every affection of love inscribed on the life [of a person] is permanent. [Emanuel Swedenborg, The Doctrine of Charity and Faith, p. 76].