Saturday, April 19, 2014

The Dangers of Riches and Inequality

In PART 3, I supposed that one might ask the question, "If the Lord gave me riches, why would he condemn me for them?" With the foundation we have established, now is a good place to address this question. The scripture that I ended PART 5 with actually gives us the answer, which we will explore in great detail in this section. Again, in D&C 56:16 the Lord says, "Wo unto you rich men, that will not give your substance to the poor, for your riches will canker your souls…" Did you catch that? The key is in using those riches to help others, by giving them away. So the Lord doesn't condemn one for their riches, so long as they don't retain their riches long enough to be condemned by them.
To further explain this, let's go back to the words of Jacob in the Book of Mormon once again, in his speech to the Nephites where he condemns them for their pride and riches. I left out a few verses before, because I wanted to talk about them in this section, in which I will be addressing what the Lord has required of those who find themselves "blessed" with riches. In essence, these additional verses are where Jacob provides them with the remedy for their dangerous situation. He says:
"Think of your brethren like unto yourselves, and be familiar with all and free with your substance, that they may be rich like unto you.
"But before ye seek for riches, seek ye for the kingdom of God.
"And after ye have obtained a hope in Christ ye shall obtain riches, if ye seek them; and ye will seek them for the intent to do good—to clothe the naked, and to feed the hungry, and to liberate the captive, and administer relief to the sick and the afflicted." (Jacob 2:17-19)
Jacob is pretty clear that there is only one approved and valid reason to seek for riches, and that is to help others and alleviate suffering. So the Lord allows certain individuals to accumulate riches so that they may be the means of helping others, by giving away their riches, pure and simple. In a sense, it can be seen as a test. It is as if the Lord is saying, "Here, I am going to allow you to have this 'gift'. But this is a very precarious gift. It is strictly to be used to help others and alleviate the burdens of your fellowmen. If you use it in ANY other way, this 'gift' becomes a curse and will destroy you." Riches are only to be used to help alleviate the burdens of others, and if anyone is living in a state of affluence while others around them are struggling or suffering, they are condemned for doing so. This is the great truth about riches. Live by this truth, or break yourself upon it. It doesn't change the fact that the consequences will be the same for everyone. A truth doesn't change, just because someone doesn't want to believe in it. It exists, irrespective of our opinions of it.
In PART 5, I talked about the blessings the Lord has in store for the poor. The real question, then, that the wealthy ought to ask themselves is, "Do I help the Lord in facilitating blessings upon the poor by relieving them of their burdens, or do I withhold my help, and by so doing condemn myself?"
One of the great stories from the New Testament, concerning the dangers of riches, is that in which the rich young ruler approached Christ. Like many of the accounts in the Gospels, this story can be found in Matthew, Mark, and Luke. I will share the account from Luke here, but I encourage a study of all three.
"And a certain ruler asked him, saying, Good Master, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?
"And Jesus said unto him, Why callest thou me good? none is good, save one, that is, God.
"Thou knowest the commandments, Do not commit adultery, Do not kill, Do not steal, Do not bear false witness, Honour thy father and thy mother.
"And he said, All these have I kept from my youth up.
"Now when Jesus heard these things, he said unto him, Yet lackest thou one thing: sell all that thou hast, and distribute unto the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven: and come, follow me.
"And when he heard this, he was very sorrowful: for he was very rich.
"And when Jesus saw that he was very sorrowful, he said, How hardly shall they that have riches enter into the kingdom of God!
"For it is easier for a camel to go through a needle’s eye, than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of God.
"And they that heard it said, Who then can be saved?
"And he said, The things which are impossible with men are possible with God." (Luke 18:18-27; see also Matthew 19:16-26 and Mark 10:17-27)
So Jesus just told his disciples that it is "easier for a camel to go through a needle's eye, than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of God", but then tells them that "the things which are impossible with men are possible with God." What does he mean by this last verse and the phrase, "possible with God"? Luckily, we have some help through Joseph Smith. In his translation of the New Testament, he added to verse 27 here in Luke, and the equivalent verses in Matthew and Mark (Matthew 19:26 and Mark 10:27).
Joseph Smith Translation of Luke 18:27 reads, "And he said unto them, It is impossible for them who trust in riches, to enter into the kingdom of God; but he who forsaketh the things which are of this world, it is possible with God, that he should enter in."

Here we have the answer to what Christ meant in verse 27, and why he would say "it is easier for a camel to go through a needle's eye….", and the answer is found in the phrase, "but he who forsaketh the things which are of this world…" The word "forsaketh" means to "abandon", "renounce", or "give up". I am reminded of the words of Paul found in 1 Timothy 6, that I have already shared, in which he talks about the dangerous power of riches "which drown men in destruction and perdition." (1 Timothy 6:9). After warning of these things, Paul admonishes the saints to "flee these things; and follow after righteousness…" (1 Timothy 6:11). Certainly, I think that a good definition of "fleeing" something would be to forsake, abandon, renounce, or give up that thing.

Joseph Smith Translation of Matthew 19:26 reads, "But Jesus beheld their thoughts, and said unto them, With men this is impossible; but if they will forsake all things for my sake, with God whatsoever things I speak are possible."

The word "if" here seems very significant to me, "IF they will forsake all things."

Joseph Smith Translation of Mark 10:27 (listed as JST Mark 10:26) reads, "With men that trust in riches, it is impossible; but not impossible with men who trust in God and leave all for my sake, for with such all these things are possible."

So here in Mark the phrase, "leave all" is used instead of "forsake", but the meaning is the same. The rich young ruler "went away sorrowful" (Matthew 19:22), at the request of Christ to give away his riches. He just couldn't do it. And this is what prompted the Lord to explain how difficult it is for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven. And when His disciples inquired further, He explained that it essentially requires a person giving up those riches in order for this to be possible. And he knew how difficult a task this becomes once one's heart is set upon their riches.

One thing that is important to realize here; the rich young ruler was a "good" man. He told the Lord that he had kept all the commandments since he was very young. And the Lord, who obviously could read the man's thoughts and heart, did not contest this claim by the young man. Rather, He explained that there was still something else keeping him out of the kingdom of God. I think this is an important distinction to make. The young man was not being condemned for being a "bad" man. Evidently he was a good man and had kept all the commandments. For all we know, he was very generous with some of his wealth. But it wasn't enough. The Lord knew, as all true disciples of Jesus Christ also know, of the dangers of riches and how easily they tend to create hearts full of pride. This one thing that afflicted the young man's soul, and this one thing alone, would keep him out of the kingdom of heaven. It is very important to realize this. And this confirms the Lord's words in D&C 56:16 and Jacob's words in Jacob 2:13-21 that have already been shared.
Let's go back to the beginning and add some more pieces of the puzzle here. In PART 2 we talked about how we are all beggars before God. And I shared some of King Benjamin's words on the subject. Let's fill in some more of his words at this point:
"And also, ye yourselves will succor those that stand in need of your succor; ye will administer of your substance unto him that standeth in need; and ye will not suffer that the beggar putteth up his petition to you in vain, and turn him out to perish.
"Perhaps thou shalt say: The man has brought upon himself his misery; therefore I will stay my hand, and will not give unto him of my food, nor impart unto him of my substance that he may not suffer, for his punishments are just—
"But I say unto you, O man, whosoever doeth this the same hath great cause to repent; and except he repenteth of that which he hath done he perisheth forever, and hath no interest in the kingdom of God.
"...And now, if God, who has created you, on whom you are dependent for your lives and for all that ye have and are, doth grant unto you whatsoever ye ask that is right, in faith, believing that ye shall receive, O then, how ye ought to impart of the substance that ye have one to another.
"And if ye judge the man who putteth up his petition to you for your substance that he perish not, and condemn him, how much more just will be your condemnation for withholding your substance, which doth not belong to you but to God, to whom also your life belongeth; and yet ye put up no petition, nor repent of the thing which thou hast done.
"I say unto you, wo be unto that man, for his substance shall perish with him; and now, I say these things unto those who are rich as pertaining to the things of this world.
"And again, I say unto the poor, ye who have not and yet have sufficient, that ye remain from day to day; I mean all you who deny the beggar, because ye have not; I would that ye say in your hearts that: I give not because I have not, but if I had I would give.
"And now, if ye say this in your hearts ye remain guiltless, otherwise ye are condemned; and your condemnation is just for ye covet that which ye have not received.
"And now, for the sake of these things which I have spoken unto you—that is, for the sake of retaining a remission of your sins from day to day, that ye may walk guiltless before God—I would that ye should impart of your substance to the poor, every man according to that which he hath, such as feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, visiting the sick and administering to their relief, both spiritually and temporally, according to their wants." (Mosiah 4:16-18,21-26)
King Benjamin was very wise. He gives us some very strong warnings regarding withholding our substance from those in need, culminating in the statement that such a person "hath no interest in the kingdom of God." (verse 18) And in verse 22, he is basically saying that we have no right to "withhold (our) substance" from those who are in need or are suffering, for these things that we think we own "doth not belong to (us) but to God." What an amazing perspective to have. And yet, it is the only perspective we are supposed to have, to "remain guiltless." (vs 25) In fact, King Benjamin is clear that everyone is supposed to think after this charitable manner, whether one is rich or poor (as indicated by verses 24-25). The rich are just required to also act on these thoughts, because they are the ones who have the means to help more.
Concerning this idea that all people are required to be charitable, if not by deed then at least in heart (the "if I had I would give" mentality), I think it is safe to say that one's mindset is also considered by the Lord. In this sense, it is not enough for one to say, "I don't live a lavish lifestyle, but I don't see anything wrong with those who decide to do so." Can one in good conscience say, "I don't personally murder people, but I don't find fault with those that do", or "I don't steal from others, but I don't think it is wrong for others to do so", or "I don't personally commit adultery, but I see no problem with others doing so"? It is not hard to see the obvious error in such thinking. Condoning a sin, even if you are not directly participating in that sin, is an act worthy of condemnation also. And we know that we will all be held accountable for our actions as well as our thoughts. I think this was the idea that King Benjamin was getting at. And we need to be able to recognize when our personal viewpoint is misguided.
Also, in verse 26, King Benjamin mentions a phrase that appears quite a few times in the Book of Mormon. He tells them they need to give of their substance, "every man according to that which he hath". In other words, the more you have the more you give. The less you have, the less is required. We will see later that this directive of giving "according to that which (you) hath" is embraced in the law of consecration.
Moses gave us similar counsel to that of King Benjamin's. He said:
"If there be among you a poor man of one of thy brethren within any of thy gates in thy land which the Lord thy God giveth thee, thou shalt not harden thine heart, nor shut thine hand from thy poor brother:
"But thou shalt open thine hand wide unto him, and shalt surely lend him sufficient for his need, in that which he wanteth.
"…For the poor shall never cease out of the land: therefore I command thee, saying, Thou shalt open thine hand wide unto thy brother, to thy poor, and to thy needy, in thy land." (Deuteronomy 15:7-8,11)
Similar to the Nephites, the people of Israel were "commanded" to help the poor and needy. In both verse 8 and 11, they are taught to "open (their) hand wide unto" the needy around them.

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