Rankin File

Ruminations, fulminations, and cogitations on the spiritual life

Why Are We Surprised?

No doubt like you, I’ve been following the ups and downs (mostly downs) of the stock market and listening to the pundits talk about this latest economic crisis. I’ve been amused – in a sickened sort of way – by the finger pointing of political parties and candidates.

In my morning prayer time I started reading Proverbs today. In the opening chapter, “my child” (NRSV), or “my son” (NIV) is instructed to avoid getting involved with friends who will lead him into a life of greedy dissipation. 1:19 says, “Such is the end of all who are greedy for gain; it takes away the life of its possessors.” The proverb writer thus makes the point that greedy people (who are violent even if they never lift a physical finger against someone) are trapped in their own devices, like a bird caught in a net.

An apt picture, this is. Why, then, are we surprised, when greedy people act greedily?

And what is greed, really? It is an insatiable (never satisfied) appetite for money and material possessions. It is the economic form of sexual lust (a form of sin about which we conservative Christians demonstrate obsessive concern). But of course, this is only a partway definition. The reason greed gets a hold on anyone is because of what a super-abundance of money and material possessions promises: freedom, comfort, pleasure, joy. The promise is a lie. It’s always a lie. It will forever be a lie. How do we stop falling for it?

In the end, greed (like sexual lust) is disordered desire. It is the economic manifestation of Genesis 3: the woman and the man saw the fruit, saw that it was desirable, and believed that it would give them something good that they didn’t yet have. No wonder this story is a classic. We should never be surprised when someone – either the fat-cat Wall Street types or the eighteen-year-old who gets his first credit card and doesn’t know how to handle it – falls prey to this problem.

Because we all have the problem. We should neither be surprised, nor should we be jaded, when Wall Street gets out of whack or when Congress-persons contribute to the problem by over-loosening regulations. It’s pure hypocrisy for anyone, Democrat or Republican or Independent, to point fingers and pretend that they, themselves don’t have the same problem.

Greed tempts us to believe what is not true. It is desire out of whack, like a swollen river exceeding its banks. Disordered desire always gets us in trouble. We are caught in the net of sin – every one of us. Our “caught-ness” manifests itself in different ways, for we are not all tempted by the same things. But we are all tempted.

I just wrote a bunch of stuff you already know. So, why am I writing it? Frankly, because I think Christians, of all people, ought to be able to exhibit (and help to provide) some balance and sensibility during this very heated political season. We ought to have opinions, strong ones, about the best candidates and policies, but we ought not get swept away by the nonsense pumped at us from so many directions. We ought not to be surprised, nor jaded, when we get caught by our own temptations. We thus could be in a better position (rather than playing the stupid politics game) to witness to the One who can redeem us (in more than a merely “spiritual” sense) from the power of sin – economic or otherwise.

Christian people living Christianly – brilliant!

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October 21, 2008 - Posted by | Christian Spirituality

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