For those of you who are not religious and have no wish to be, please bear with me. Though I’m using the Bible to illustrated what I have to say about financial security, the lesson in this post is applicable to all.
One of the lectionary readings this Sunday was from Deuteronomy 30. Moses has just finished laying down the law to the Isrealites, and he says this:
“See, I have set before you today life and prosperity, death and adversity. If you obey the commandments of the Lord your God that I am commanding you today, by loving the Lord your God, walking in his ways, and observing his commandments, decrees, and oridnances, then you shall live and become numerous, and the Lord your God will bless you in the land that you are entering to possess. But if your heart turns away and you do not hear, but are led astray to bow down to other gods and serve them, I declare to you today that you shall perish; you shall not live long in the land that you are crossing the Jordan to enter and possess. I call heaven and earth to witness against you today that I have set before you life and death, blessings and curse. Choose life so that you and your descendents may live.” (Deut. 30:15-19)
Here Moses is speaking to a group of people who, prior to their escape from slavery in Egypt, weren’t really a community. They maybe had a common heritage, but they had no laws other than those of their former overlords, no customs of their own, no sense of identity as a people. If they were to survive and prosper, they had to develop that sense of community, and agree to a common legal structure.
At it’s most basic, that’s what material and physical security is all about. A society of anarchists, where each person is out to get as much as he or she can get and to hell with everybody else is a society where no-one will live very long, where every person lives in fear, and where nobody will amass very much wealth.
Throughout the entire history of humankind, laws, customs and taboos were created not only to control our individual whackiness, but to create within a group the cohesiveness that will allow not only the individual members of the group but the group as a whole to create and amass wealth.
We ignore and disobey these laws and customs at our peril. For example, speeding on the highway is so commonplace nowadays that it seems that everybody does it. But those limits are there for good reason, and if you speed consistently, eventually your “sins” will catch up to you. At best, you’ll get a hefty fine. At worst? Well, if you drive on the highway, you’ve likely seen the carnage.
It seems that every week there’s a news article outlining how this or that celebrity has been arrested or charged, or maybe their spending habits have caught up to them and they have to sell that billion dollar mansion. Getting rich is comparatively easy, but the celebrities who KEEP both their riches and their fame, when looked at closely, tend to be those whose personal lives are the least flamboyant and most law abiding.
The same is true of we not-rich, not-famous, ordinary folks. I know a lot of people from many different walks of life, and I can tell you that those who have ammassed and kept enough wealth to be considered financially secure are those who obey the law even when no one’s watching, who nurture their relationships, and who do what’s expected of them and more when they’re on the job.
I’m not saying that the law is perfect. Human beings make the laws, and human beings aren’t perfect, so the law can never be. But the law is, at a particular place and a particular time, the consensus of the group, and any disobedience comes with a cost. Sometimes the cost is worth it, and we disobey knowing the cost may well be our wealth or our life. But all too often our desire to ignore the law comes from our own impatience, small-mindedness, or childishness.
Moses had it right, and every day, every minute of our lives, we make a choice. We can choose to live by the law and to be a contributing part of the group, or we can choose to worship the false idols of fast bucks gained by questionable means. The choice is (often literally) between life and death.