Many of you know that this summer I’m pursuing a Certificate in Financial Management as part of my continuing professional education. Shockingly, I did not learn any finance while in seminary. Math has never been my favorite and finance has been a blind spot for me. Perhaps you wouldn’t think of it, but financial management and financial leadership is an important piece of the work of a pastor. In the church we call financial management and leadership stewardship because we believe all our finances and resources are a gift from God to be used for God’s glory. Therefore, good financial management is good stewardship.
The courses have been great and I’ve been learning a lot. One of the added and unexpected blessings of the course has been my encounter with various economic theories and how these theories have led me to reflect theological. For example, this morning in the course of my studies I studied the economic theory of the “Utility of Wealth.” The Utility of Wealth states that utility is the value a person will receive in goods and services in exchange for money and that utility increases with wealth, but at a decreasing rate. I found this interesting. As I understand this economically and anthropologically, as human beings gain more wealth they become less satisfied with their wealth or the benefits their wealth can purchase. In other words, the famous old adage seem to be true according to economic theory – “money can’t buy you happiness.”
This seems to translate theologically as well. Jesus said some radical things about money. Jesus said that you can’t have two masters and therefore it’s impossible to serve both God and money at the same time. Jesus also said that it would be more difficult for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God than for a camel to pass through the eye of the needle. Finally, Jesus also infamously instructed a rich young follower of his to sell all of his money and to give it to the poor.
I think what Jesus is saying here about wealth and money is the same thing the economic theory of the Utility of Wealth reveals. Obviously, money is a necessity. We need to eat, be housed, be clothed, tend to our physical needs. But there comes a point when the utility of money transforms into a lust for money. Once we lust for money we will always want more, but ironically, we will find that the money we desire doesn’t satisfy us in the ways we want it to satisfy us. There is a deep longing for meaning, for happiness, for fulfillment, for joy, and for purpose in our life. While money is necessary to care for ourselves and our basic needs and the needs of others, it cannot provide meaning, happiness, fulfillment, joy, or purpose in our life. And to try and seek fulfillment and happiness through the varying things money can provide will only lead to disappointment, dissatisfaction, and restlessness.
And trust me, I’m not just pointing the finger at you…I’m writing this post for me too. I need to remember this. It’s easy for me to fall into some of these money traps as well. Jesus alone satisfies. Jesus alone provides meaning. Jesus alone gives our lives their purpose and fills them with joy. This seems to be indicated across both economic, anthropological, and theological theories.