Attitudes Toward Money

I vividly remember being continually worried whether or not I’d have enough money to make ends meet, and to pay bills in a timely manner. My stress and anxiety increased as the month progressed. No matter how much I wanted to trust God, in whom I believe and His promises of taking care of His children, it didn’t seem to ease my fears.

As a matter of course, I would beat myself over the head for not having enough faith, and at the same time I was unable to get off that treadmill. I was angry and fed up at my apparent inability to resolve the situation. It was during one of these moments that I came across a book that forever changed my attitude toward money. The book didn’t resolve my debt but fundamentally changed my attitude toward it. Understanding how to become and stay debt-free would take close to another ten years!

Jacques Ellul, a French philosopher and theologian, wrote Money and Power1. Ellul speaks about the power that money exerts over humanity, if we allow it to dominate our lives. To demonstrate how money holds sway over rich and poor alike, he sees money as a spiritual entity, which according to Biblical designation he calls Mammon.

In and of itself, money is just paper used as a simple exchange between people for goods and services, and to which we have given a transactional value. Seen as an entity, however, money, becomes a source of pleasure and pain; greed and hoarding, poverty and misery, etc. He explains:

This power of money establishes in the world a certain type of human relationship and a specific human behavior. It creates what could be broadly called a buying-selling relationship. Everything in this world is paid for one way or another. Likewise, everything can, one way or another, be bought. Such is the character that the power of money imposes on the world. Although money is only one means of this power’s action, it is the most visible and concrete sign of the universality of buying and selling. The world sees this behavior as normal. Without constant exchange, we could not continue to live.2

Ellul maintains that for the poor:

According to the Bible, it is extremely easy to slip from poverty into slavery. The purchase of a slave is the purchase not only of a body but of the whole person. Poverty also leads to the total alienation of the poor, an alienation which puts the labor force at the disposal of the wealthy, permitting the wealthy to impose their own law and conception of life, their own thought and religion. Poverty leads to the total subjection of the poor, together with their family and inner life, to the rich. It is this purchase of the inner person, attested by the Bible that corrupts the money relationship.3

The author doesn’t suggest that having money is wrong or that riches are evil. He simply states that in submitting money, human priorities change. Instead, we are called to give human interaction precedence over money. In other words, my having money should not disadvantage my neighbor by denying my neighbor help when I’m financially able to do so. Ellul affirms that, “we must always side with humanity against the power of money”.4

He places money in a Biblical context as under the control of God and redeemed through Christ. In the Biblical narrative, God appointed humans to be His stewards of the earthly resources He provided for us. Management of those resources was intended to benefit all. Our proclivity to hoard and amass for ourselves distorted that divine appointment, which only Christ was able to restore through his death and resurrection. Genuine followers of Christ (as opposed to Christians in name only) embrace and live out that restoration to bring God’s Shalom to all.

Therefore, being freed from the hold of money I can trust in divine provision to guide my life even in money matters. This would also mean that when I am in a position of wealth, I should treat others as equals and not as subject to me and my money; I have a responsibility not to squander it.

The author’s words had a profound impact. It was the aha moment I needed to get off that proverbial treadmill. Since I do believe in God, the revelation that my agonizing about money had given me a distorted understanding of its power; and that I had no understanding at all on then subject, actually. Of course I didn’t want to continue giving that kind of power to money. What followed may sound like a leap of faith to you but that’s exactly what it was.

As a daughter to her father, I stated matter-of-fact, “Well Lord, I’m Your responsibility, and if I’m late paying bills or meeting my financial obligations, it’ll look bad and will cause embarrassment. Whatever the outcome, I trust You with it.” At that very moment anxiety, anger and frustration were replaced with peace. Since that moment, I have never fretted about money again, and have always been able to meet my financial obligations. I hope your realize that I wasn’t passively standing by or using this as an excuse to shrug my responsibilities. Trusting God means you’re active with confidence and resolve while you don’t allow money or the lack of it, to overwhelm you.

It took my understanding of the spiritual power of money and God’s desire to care for us, to change my attitude toward money. The last thing I wanted was to have it rule over me, my emotions and my family.
Did it make me debt-free? No! That only happened almost 10 years later, once I recognized where and what in my past had contributed to the vicious cycle of debt. By sharing this, I sincerely hope to help you shorten your learning curve and attain your goal of becoming debt free.

 

[1]  Jacques Ellul , Money & Power (Downers Grove, Ill.: Intervarsity Press 1984), (Eugene, Oregon : Wipf & Stock 2009 – Revised Edition)
[2]  Money & Power p. 78
[3]  Ibid. p. 78
[4]  Ibid. p. 99

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