We use money all the time, but we rarely stop to think about what money is and what it represents to us. Each person’s own personal history with money can lead them to hold certain beliefs (sometimes subconsciously) about money that make it a more emotional issue than, say, one’s choice of pants or flavor of ice cream. So in order to make this clear for myself, and pre-empt any possible misunderstandings, I’ve written this post about some of Kate and I’s core beliefs about money. Here goes:
What Money Is Not
Money is not a reflection of your worth. Our worth comes from being created by God. Done. You were created by God, so you have value. The amount of money you have, the amount of money you had, the amount of money you will have, the amount of money you spend on fill-in-the-blank, the amount of money your friend made by doing really impressive thing XYZ...none of it affects one’s worth as a person. Sometimes I feel like I could have been more ‘successful’ by having chosen another school to attend or career to pursue or major to study, but how much money I make doesn’t matter to God. I would not be more or less valuable or important if I had done anything different, which leads to my next point.
Money is not an indicator of God’s favor. I know there are a wide range of beliefs on this issue, but Kate and I both believe strongly that the amount of money you have is no evidence whatsoever of your relationship with God or your status as a good Christian. I won’t get into a theological defense of this stance at this time, but I have seen enough poor people who are great Christians and enough rich people who are not to make the case in my mind. I’ve also seen vice versa, of course, which just proves my next point:
How much money you have has no relation to your character. You are not your money.
How you handle your money is not an indicator of your general competence in life. How well you handle your money is an indicator of one thing: how well you handle your money. (Well, really, it is probably an indicator of the amount of money-related knowledge you have been exposed to, your ability and willingness to take in that knowledge, the financial habits of the family you grew up in, the financial habits of your friends and the society you live in, and your personal emotional relationship with money). BUT my point is that all those factors are still related to money and you can be not-great at money and still be great at everything else in life. Not everyone is currently great at handling their money, just like not everyone is great at ballet or running marathons or writing poetry or handling repairs on their car in a timely manner. In fact, I’m not good at any of those.
Some people do make better use of money than others, but also some people make better use of their intelligence, beauty, time, and abnormally cute pets than others; and as with all aspects of life, I am not in a position to judge others’ trials and tribulations or successes and failures. Even if I forget about the part in the Bible about “Judge not lest ye be judged,” I still couldn’t claim to make an accurate judgement about whether someone should be good with money by now without being extremely knowledgeable of their whole character, life story, and emotions - which happens at best rarely throughout one’s lifetime. So we believe people should not be ashamed of a lack of knowledge about money or the fact that it wasn’t handled well in the past - but now is always a good time to start getting better!
Lastly, money is not capable of solving your biggest problems. As they say, “Problems that money can solve aren’t very big problems.”* All the most important aspects of life are not determined by money. Money cannot save relationships, cannot solve most health problems, and cannot bring back lost loved ones. Money cannot teach you spiritual disciplines, improve your theological understanding, nor renew your faith in God. So while we believe part of being a good Christian is being thoughtful with your money, we recognize that in many instances of life being thoughtful with your money cannot be or should not be your biggest priority.
What Money Is
Money is a tool. (Sometimes that is true in the pejorative sense, but that isn’t what I mean here). We aim to treat money as a means to an end, not the end itself. When I spend money, I try to think of what larger thing I am indirectly purchasing: convenience, happiness (perhaps through recreation), sustenance, a chance to show off, or reduced suffering for others? Some of these are more important to me than others, so I try to adjust my spending accordingly. Money is necessary for many parts of modern life, but it shouldn’t be treated as just something that comes and goes of its own will - it should be a tool used towards a purpose.
Hebrews 13:5 says Keep your life free from love of money, and be content with what you have, for he has said, “I will never leave you nor forsake you”. (The second part of that sentence is pretty deep and has a lot to discuss, so I’ll save that for later and just talk about the first part for now :-). I completely agree that you should keep your life free from love of money. Money should always be used toward a purpose and goal. There may be times when I am not exactly clear what that purpose is, but I should not be content to just have a big pile o’money without a plan. Love of money without a plan is just a lust for power, and we all know how virtuous that is!
So anyway, my point is that money should be used for something. And I should actively be thinking about what that something is and making sure it is the right something. Which leads me to my final point…
How I spend my money is a representation of my values. I don’t always like this fact. It often makes me quite uncomfortable. By spending money on doohickey A or activity B, I am stating that I think doohickey A or activity B is more important to me than anything I am not spending money on. It must be, or otherwise I would have chosen not to spend money on it. And I know that doohickey A and activity B are sometimes actually not that important, and the good Christian that I want to be would have chosen option C. Option C might be donating to charity, flight tickets to see family or friends (or pay for them to come see me), or buying the version of doohickey A that wasn’t made with abusive labor or environmental practices. It could also be saving up money so Kate or I can make a career change into something that allows us to live out our values more often between the hours of 9am and 5pm. (Side note: Our jobs aren’t unethical, they just aren’t shining beacons of virtuosity either).
I do want to note that some spending that might seem to be a poor representation of one’s values actually is not upon further inspection. For example, I used to have a fair amount of guilt about eating out. I don’t think my values really say anything about the importance of someone else cooking my food for me. But after thinking about it further, I realized that I do value two things about eating out: 1) the greater opportunities it provides me to build relationships with friends and family and 2) the chance to relax and appreciate the wonder of creation and all the marvelous foods that exist. The issue that arises is that it can be quite difficult to draw a line at exactly how much creation needs to be wondered at or whether being in a restaurant actually makes it any easier to build relationships than eating at home, because sometimes it can be too easy to give myself excuses. We’ll spend a good number of posts in the future discussing this topic and trying to figure out the best way to be true to our values while still being a functioning, reasonable, and reasonably consistent human being.
So there you have it. Those are our beliefs about money. Let us know YOUR thoughts about money, and how your emotional relationship with money has changed over time. When you have the chance.
* While this statement is mostly true in the United States and other developed nations… there are several developing countries where people have big problems that money can solve, which will come up more in future posts.