Today the 18th international climate negotiation conference (COP18) starts in Doha, Qatar. I don’t know how they chose host country for the conference, but since Qatar is rich on oil, owns the “best airline in the world” and has turned into one of the richest country in the world per capita, it wouldn’t have been my primary choice. To end the enormous problem with climate change, we need to dramatically decrease oil use, flying and wealth.
Scripture tells us that the love for money is the root of all evil (1 Tim 6:10), which is evident when it comes to the horrors of climate change. Of course, developing countries have a right to develop and fight poverty, I am defenitely not against that. But I’m against that rich countries, corporations and individuals keep getting richer although they know that this will result in coming catastrophies.
The climate problem has been publically known for 20 years, but global greenhouse gas emissions are still increasing. Recently the World Bank published a shocking report which said that even if all countries implement what they have promised to do, we still risk a rise of global temperature with four degrees, resulting in humanitarian disasters affecting millions. The aspirations of especially rich countries are simply far too weak. We really need to pray for miracles in Doha.
But we also need to have a simple lifestyle ourselves. While it is important that people living in poverty get richer to achieve a better quality of life, it is equally important that rich people get poorer so that they stop consume unnecessary products. This is what the Bible talks about:
“Give me neither poverty nor riches, but give me only my daily bread.” (Prov 30:8)
“Anyone who has two shirts should share with the one who has none, and anyone who has food should do the same.” (Lk 3:11)
In contrast to this biblical vision of economic equality, some debaters and politicians argue that we can and should combine sustainability and economic growth, so that the richer may get richer with a good conscience. This is of course false; an infinitely growing economy cannot exist within a finite ecosystem, if everyone lived like the avarage European, we would need three globes (five if everyone were living like Americans).
Let’s go back to the biblical vision. Let’s fight climate change through fighting wealth.
hi micael. just wanted to leave a comment that i really enjoy reading your blog. i like your pancake church and i’m part of what you could call a pizza street church that i found out about thru my vineyard here in los angeles.
while i’m definitely still trying to figure out what i think is God’s heart concerning activism, politics, and pacifism i do have a couple thoughts in regards to this post. you said that “Scripture tells us that the love for money is the root of all evil” but if you look at the actual verse it says the love for money is a root of all kinds of evil meaning that it isn’t the only root of evil but just one of others. i can think of scripture also mentioning a bitter root. also, i think it is good to remember that money isn’t the root but the love of money is the root problem. i am not convinced that money or wealth is so much the problem but rather greed and selfishness.
you mention in your most recent post that all countries should strive for equality in wealth. i’m not convinced that is what scripture is talking about but rather helping the poor which is certainly very important. i will keep thinking about it though. yes, i see the proverb you quoted above but one has to be careful not to proof text i.e. take verses out of context to use them to support our positions. we always have to consider the genre of scripture and the context when interpreting and look at the whole counsel of scripture on an issue. i think it is possible for God to bless people financially in order to use that money how God desires. i can see God giving someone a larger share of financial blessing because he has a specific task for them to do with it. that may not mean the person is immediately supposed to give it all away or redistribute it to others equally. God is a real lover of diversity and just as we each receive a different measure of faith God also distributed various amounts (talents) of money to the servants in the parable in matthew 25. he distributed them “according to their abilities” rather than equally.
you are bringing up important subjects that do require a lot of consideration. i’ll be honest that i don’t know enough yet about how economic growth and sustainability interact beyond the obvious but i’ll keep thinking about it all. simplicity is certainly a good goal but i’m not convinced that means equality. the Spirit does like to blow where it will. 🙂
Thank you so much for your encouragement! God bless your pizza church (I hope you have some vegetarian alternatives). 🙂
I plan to do a more in-depth Bible study on this topic soon but I will give you a short response. Of course, money could not be a root of evil since it then would be evil to give money to the poor, but if one is rich, one has love for money. If not, one would have no problem in giving it away. 1 Tim 6:10 cannot be separated from vv 8-9 which says that we should be content with what we have and that it is wrong to want to be rich.
Economic equality is a vision that is evident all through Scripture, it is not based on proof-texts taken out of context, please have a look at
https://holyspiritactivism.wordpress.com/god-vs-wealth/ The Jubilee laws were put in place to hinder inequality in the Old Testament, Mary prophesied about redistribution in her Magnificat, John the Baptist said that equality is the result of repentance (Luke 3:11), Jesus told all His disciples to sell everything (Luke 12:33) which they did (Acts 2:44), having everything in common so that nobody was rich and no one poor. Rich churches started to give money to poor, and according to Paul the goal with this is that it should be “equal for all” (2 Cor 8:13-15).
This vision is wonderful, I thank Jesus for leading me into it. It’s absurd that some people have more money than other only because of where they were born. Poor farmers in SSA work much harder than you and I, still they get constantly sick, go hungry, die in AIDS etc. To say that we should help the poor but maintain inequality is like saying that we should stop a disease but not use all medicine available.
As mentioned, I will write more about this on this blog soon. Stay tuned 🙂
hi micael. i am familiar with all the verses you mention. i think the question is when is a particular passage/verse descriptive and when is it prescriptive meaning it is a command and not just a description of what was happening. we can easily see from some OT passages about the mistreatment of women that some passages are merely descriptive of events and are not meant to be followed. also, it isn’t a good idea to take jesus’ instructions to an individual and subsequently apply that to everyone. the instruction to the rich young ruler may have been only for him because his wealth was an idol. these are all hermeneutical issues. other than the rich young ruler no one is told to sell *all* their possessions that i can find. of course, in other passages the disciples are told to sell their possessions which is good and right, but not all of them. just as when jesus sent the disciples out he told them the one time not to take a purse or other things but in the other instance he specifically told them to take purses, etc.
the problem with the passage in acts is that it is immediately followed by the story of ananais and sapphira where the point is that they lied about keeping back some of their money from their sale of the property. in fact, peter says “didn’t it [the money] belong to you before it was sold? after it was sold, wasn’t the money *at your disposal*?” peter is saying their sin was not in fact keeping some of the money but that they lied about it. i know i have never heard any teaching on that passage imply anything contrary to that.
i think that you are conflating wealth with greed, and similarly giving to the poor (which is very, very important) with giving equally to all. in matt 26 jesus praised the woman who poured out the perfume in her alabaster jar and rebuked the disciples when they said it should have been sold at a high price and the money given to the poor. but, if that had been done the woman would not have been able to anoint jesus and she is highly praised by jesus for this act.
wealth or riches is a relative term. what is wealth in the developing world is certainly not considered wealth in the developed world. who is to judge and become the wealth police? greed has no such problems and is easily identified.
finally, i have a quesion: how do you make sense of the parable of the talents that i previously mentioned? in it one person is given 10 talents of money (these are huge sums of money that are being discussed), another 5 talents and another 1 talent. there is no equality there. also, the verse in 2 cor 9:7 where it says “each man should give what he has decided in his heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.”
please don’t misunderstand me. i am not a proponent of the prosperity gospel and i believe giving to the poor is quite important.
Thanks for your answer, Linda!
I am afraid that you are making some false assumptions concerning these texts and read things that actually are not there. I don’t want to blame you for that, though. All these arguments I’ve heard before from both Americans and Swedes, so I believe that there are some teachings circling around the Western church on this topic that make people draw wrong conclusions.
Firstly, you assume that “the instruction to the rich young ruler may have been only for him because his wealth was an idol”. I think you are aware with that the text does not state this at all, since you put in a “may” in your argument. But still, is escaping idolatry the only reason why rich should give their stuff to the poor? No, the lives of the poor will improve. As I point out in the first part of my new series God vs Wealth, James is critisizing the rich not because of idolatry but because they are rich: https://holyspiritactivism.wordpress.com/2012/12/10/god-vs-wealth-part-1-its-wrong-to-be-rich/
Secondly, you assume that “the disciples are told to sell their possessions which is good and right, but not all of them.” But when Jesus say “sell your possessions” in Lk 12:33, which are excluded. If I tell someone “go and get your kids”, I of course mean all of them if I have not specified before which ones. Acts 2 and 4 prove that the disciples did sell everything in order to achieve equality, so that argument is not valid.
Thirdly, you assume that “peter is saying their sin was not in fact keeping some of the money but that they lied about it.” The story of Ananias and Sapheira is often used to “prove” that these two could have skipped equality if they wanted to, but that is not was Peter is saying. He is not saying that it would have been perfectly fine if they continued to be rich, he is just pointing out that the property and money were at their disposal. Why? Because if they had shared or borrowed it from someone else they had a reason not to give everything, now they are guilty of lying. Peter is not justifying wealth, he is just making a clarification.
Fourthly, you assume that the story about the alabaster jar prove that it should not be equal for all. But what then happened with 2 Cor 8:13? I will discuss the alabaster jar in my God vs Wealth series but I can shortly point out that it is impossible to apply to any other situation than when it happened, since it is dependent upon the physical presence of Jesus and that His death is in the future. Why? Because this jar was a prophecy concerning Jesus’ burial, and He says that things will be different when He is not present.
Finally, you assume that the parable of the talents (which I missed to comment before, sorry for that) is about money. This would have absurd theological consequences. If so, Jesus is saying that financial investment and growth, either through business or banking, is a requirement for coming to Heaven. If you are a bad businessman on earth, you go to hell. Is this coherent with rest of Scripture? Of course not. And it is indeed a bad parable if the money (talents) symbolize money. It’s like saying that the oil in another parable in Matthew 25 symbolizes oil, and that Jesus’ message is that we should have oil in our pockets when He returns.
I agree that we should give voluntarily, but I am grieved when rich people do not want equality. We are to love our neighbour as ourselves, but in practice the poor are looked upon as less valuable that should not have equal opportunities than us. No Congolese chose to be born in Congo. If we do not want them to have equal opportunities than us, we are not loving them as ourselves. As 1 John 3:17 says: “If anyone has material goods, and see the needs of his brother but closes his heart for him, the love of God cannot abide in him.”
God bless you!