Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Storing up treasure

Where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.
One of the alarming things about reading the New Testament from a "post-growth" perspective is the way in which its teachings about money and possessions come alive again. Like most Western Christians, I suppose, I have developed some defense mechanisms against "Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth" (Matthew 6:19) and the story of the "rich fool" who thought he had everything prepared for a long retirement (Luke 12:16-21) but forgot to be "rich toward God".

We like to feel that we have a claim on the future, and accumulated money - savings accounts, retirement plans, and so on - provides a way in which that claim can be expressed and organized.  But, ultimately, the claim on the future that we are making is a claim on a portion of the actual future wealth of the earth - not a claim for mere financial tokens.  If  the wealth of the earth is increasing less rapidly than the claims on it - the one constrained by physical limits, the other growing exponentially by the mathematical magic of compound interest - then it is not going to be possible to satisfy all those claims.  In the language of the European debt crisis, the claimants (bondholders) will have to take a "haircut" - or as the New Testament more vividly puts it, our gold and silver will have rusted; a chemically impossible metaphor for the loss of value of apparently assured investments.

The investments that count will be in people and relationships, rather than in financial instruments.  This is one message of the cryptic parable of the Unjust Steward (Luke 16:9). 

1 comment:

John Roe said...

I should have mentioned also the passage I Tim 6:17-19: "As for the rich in this present age, charge them not to be haughty, nor to set their hopes on the uncertainty of riches, but on God, who richly provides us with everything to enjoy. They are to do good, to be rich in good works, to be generous and ready to share, thus storing up treasure for themselves as a good foundation for the future, so that they may take hold of that which is truly life."