Friday, November 7, 2008

do we idolize our budgets?

My understanding of Catholic theology is thus: (and whether or not it's a right understanding is almost incidental--I'm using it as a paralell, but if I'm horribly off, maybe some of the orthodox Catholics out there can give me a heads-up.) That what God's grace grants us is the ability to fulfill God's will through good works. That it's then up to us to go out and do them. That the grace of God is, in a sense, the capability of pulling ourselves up by our bootstraps. Protestant theology on the other hand says that grace has taken care of it all and so that works don't matter--at least so far as our salvation and forgiveness of sins is concerned. (Or rather, that our works do matter, but not for the reasons that we think that they do.)

What's interesting to me is the degree to which what is being preached about finances in conservative Christian circles parlells our discussions of grace. God wants us to use our money responsibly and he also wants us to enjoy the good things of life. No one questions that any more than they question that God gives out grace and also that good works are to be evident in our lives. The question is how they fit together. And it seems to me that what I'm hearing about an awful lot of Christian financial gurus is essentially--God will give you the ability to get out of debt, get rich, secure your financial future (we'll tell you how!) but now it's up to you to put in the work to actually go do it.

One of the themes in Rob's preaching the last while has been the various guises in which legalism shows up in the church--that we keep slipping from grace back into legalism because the human condition is that we WANT to be able to save ourselves . . . we want the credit for the results. Safer, surer. And so it is with money. We want to be able to tell ourselves that we can make ourselves safe and secure (and part of that is being unburdened with debt). We want to be in control of our finances--in part because we to insure things that are way down the road in terms of goals and hedge against every possible contingency. We want to make ourselves safe.

Now, don't get me wrong, I'm not arguing against college funds, 401K plans, or life insurance. Necessarily. I'm certainly not arguing against taking a realistic look at income and expenditures and living within our means. But I do think that we often, as the Body of Christ, do not do a very good job remembering
  1. that every good and perfect gift is from God
  2. that Jesus assures us that we will be taken care of
  3. that in fact anything we build up here is not actually much of a safeguard because theives steal, moths destroy and stock markets crash
  4. that we are in fact merely hedge fund managers for God attempting to make sure that the resources placed in our care get a good return--but we're not playing with our own investments and to treat them as such, is in fact embezzlement
  5. God is not limited in the ways that he can come up with to provide for us

Historically, the first thing God tells his people to do with their money is tithe--give some back to him. Not pay down debts. Or buy clothes for the kids or food for the table. Not set aside some of the crop to make sure that there's something to plant again next year. He I think that part of the reason for this, that one of the corrolaries of the fact that it's not simply all ours is that God does not lay on us the responsibility to provide it all for ourselves. It's a reminder that that too is beyond us--we cannot forsee ever circumstance or plan against every contingency. He does not set us to do the impossible. Instead he reminds us that he is a good father to us. That he provides. That he is worthy of our attention and worship--not our pathetic little attempts to do for ourselves.


Ruth said...

Sounds like a good series that Rob is preaching.

"we cannot forsee every circumstance or plan against every contingency"

a good reminder for those of us who are control freaks.

Erin said...

Last night I ended up having the Santa talk with my 9 year old. It all started when both my boys asked for PSPs for Christmas and I said I didn't think we'd be getting them for them this year. My 9 year old said "That's ok we'll ask Santa".

Well he's at the age where it comes up at school and such, so I thought this would be a good opportunity. So we had the talk about St. Nicholas and all. Then I asked him where he thought his Christmas presents come from if Santa wasn't real.

He didn't miss a beat and said "From God!" and I had to laugh. I was getting at that the presents were from mom and dad, but he knew the source!

I guess that may be off topic, but there it is. ;-)

Sara said...

Ruth--this is all quite a source of comfort to me as an incompetent control freak. I want to be the one in control--but I just can't manage it. Fortunately, this does not take God off guard.

Erin--thanks for the lol. We've never done Santa with our kids, and we're now, with our 8 yr. old starting to run up against a different problem of trying to coach her through how to interact with some of her friends who do believe in Santa when she doesn't.

Erin said...

Sometimes I think it's better not to start the whole Santa thing. Now I have to go way back into the historical explanation to convince them we haven't been completely lying to them the entire time.

But still, they get the cutest kick out of watching Santa on Google Earth.