Last week our always excellent Sunday School teacher once again did not shy away from the tough questions. This time, to quote her prechurch email, "How much do you think that how someone uses their money tells you about that person's character/values/morality/righteousness?" The text was Jacob 1-4, the most salient part being 2:17-19---
    Think of your brethren like unto yourselves, and be familiar with all and free with your substance, that they may be rich like unto you.

    But before ye seek for riches, seek ye for the kingdom of God.

    And after ye have obtained a hope in Christ ye shall obtain riches, if ye seek them; and ye will seek them for the intent to do good—to clothe the naked, and to feed the hungry, and to liberate the captive, and administer relief to the sick and the afflicted.
It ends up I'm not alone in feeling that that final verse gets used as, her word, carte blanche, by Mormons anxious to increase their wealth. And I hate that perception. Or interpretation, rather.

Which isn't to excuse myself.

As for me, I have an extremely neurotic relationship with money. I'm terrified of it. I fear being financially comfortable less that mean I am not giving enough away. And the thought of actually being wealthy can give me the cold sweats. It's easier for a rich man . . . .

The funny thing is, although I reject the notion of high-hog living as excused by Jacob I also recognize that were we doing everything we were meant to do (financially), we would still have "sufficient" and even "according to [our] wants."

The facts that we live in a money-driven world and that God wants us to be comfortable and that God wants us to care for the widows and orphans and leprous and poor, are all compatible, no matter how not-so they may occasionally seem.

I don't have a conclusion here. I don't know what the answers for me are and I certainly don't know what they are for you. But if you're looking to be familiar with all and free with your substance, here I am.


last week's svithe


  1. Now I can't stop thinking about the Cheshire Cat.

  2. I think some people tend to skip over the last part of the last verse you quoted - you will find the riches because you want to use them for the poor, needy, etc. And, to me, riches don't necessarily mean money.

  3. I really liked this lesson, too. I was sad we had to limit our discussion on this topic to "get through" other material in the lesson plan, I think we missed out on much interesting discussion.

    One important detail: our superlative Sunday School teacher has a PhD in Economics and teaches at UC Berkeley's BUSINESS school. So she spends her career thinking about wealth & teaching people what they need to know in order to be very successful in a material sense. She has probably spent a great deal of time thinking about this question.

    My view on this, which is sufficiently un-churchy that I decided not to express it publicly during Sunday School in order to avoid roiling the waters, is that Adam Smith was right. Sometimes the best way of doing good: clothing the naked, feeding the hungry, etc., is to pursue one's own self-interest.

    Take a look at the miracles taking place in China and India. Millions of people are being lifted out of poverty as their economies grow. I consider Globalization as one of the most significant charitable works of our time, in terms of how many people's lives are being improved in a sustainable and meaningful way. Yet this process is being driven by self-interest on all sides.

    All of this is not to take away from the essential message of the scriptures that being consumed by wealth is spiritually ruinous. Certainly we don't have to look very hard to find examples of unscrupulous businessmen who profit off the suffering of others, and I'm not trying to dilute the point that one must be guided by spiritual principles or risk disaster.

    Instead, I'm suggesting that we remember that economies are not zero-sum games: you don't always have one person losing for every person who is winning. Both sides can profit, and often do. This changes how I look at wealth, because it means that it is possible to be wealthy without forcing others to suffer. And it creates a virtuous circle: in some sense the best way to help other people be wealthy is to become wealthy yourself, creating a sustained economy whereby all can profit.

  4. .

    Very few things in life are zero-sum but somehow our default setting as humans seems to be you-can't-win-unless-I-lose. Which is nonsense, of course.

    This is why one of my favorite talks of all time is this one.

    I think my own neurosis about getting wealthy is based on untruths and if I could figure out what those were, although I still might not pursue great wealth, at least I could stop develop twitches over it.

    As for Sunday School specifically, I think we would often do well to forget about Covering All the Material and focus on what concerns us, and issues like this are exactly what concerns us.

  5. wow, your SS teacher sends you a "pre-Church email???" How do I get on her mailing list?

  6. .

    She's a fabulous teacher, I'm not going to lie.

  7. Bored in Vernal reads your blog? WTG Theric!