Saturday, April 19, 2014

The Dangers of Riches and Inequality

In the last section, we established, through the scriptures, that all of us are essentially beggars before God. Everything we have been blessed with we owe to God as nothing really belongs to us anyway. We demonstrated how we are taught to love others as ourselves, and not think of us, or anyone else, as being above another person. All of these are core doctrines concerning our relationship with God and with others around us. These are all principles pertaining to a thought process or a state of mind which God wants us to arrive at. As such they establish a good foundation to begin the following discussions on how God wants us to act, once we have arrived at this higher level of thinking regarding our relationship with divinity and society. Essentially, we cannot hope to improve our actions if we don't first have a desire to do so, built upon a foundation of concepts or ideas that we hold to be true.
I would pause here briefly and say that if anyone is reading this who doesn't believe in the principles I have already discussed, regarding how we should feel indebted to God, and how we should view others around us, then I would say to that person that further reading is probably not going to help here, for their problem runs much deeper than I can be of assistance. And I would also say to such an individual that they ought to seriously evaluate their own life and strive to discover, through scripture study and prayer, what God would have them to know, and what kind of person He would want them to be.
For the rest of us, let's move on.
Before we talk about what the Lord requires of us (again, the "actions"), we need to talk about warnings. The scriptures are full of warnings, from the prophets and the Lord himself. But for our purposes here, we are going to focus on one particular type of warning, that which is given to those "who are rich as to the things of the world" (2 Nephi 9:30).
I suppose this scripture is as good a place to start as any. Jacob often taught the people of Nephi about the dangers of riches. He taught them:
"But wo unto the rich, who are rich as to the things of the world. For because they are rich they despise the poor, and they persecute the meek, and their hearts are upon their treasures; wherefore, their treasure is their god. And behold, their treasure shall perish with them also." (2 Nephi 9:30)
I find it interesting that Jacob chooses to use the very straightforward wording that he does. He doesn't indicate that riches might or could lead one to despise and persecute the poor and meek. He simply explains that riches will lead one to do so. He also uses a phrase that shows up many times in the scriptures in correlation with riches, and that is that their "hearts are upon their treasures".
Later, after his brother Nephi's death, and as a result of many of the people falling into wickedness, Jacob solidifies this teaching once again. He says:
"And the hand of providence hath smiled upon you most pleasingly, that you have obtained many riches; and because some of you have obtained more abundantly than that of your brethren ye are lifted up in the pride of your hearts, and wear stiff necks and high heads because of the costliness of your apparel, and persecute your brethren because ye suppose that ye are better than they.
"And now, my brethren, do ye suppose that God justifieth you in this thing? Behold, I say unto you, Nay. But he condemneth you, and if ye persist in these things his judgments must speedily come unto you.
"O that he would show you that he can pierce you, and with one glance of his eye he can smite you to the dust!
"O that he would rid you from this iniquity and abomination. And, O that ye would listen unto the word of his commands, and let not this pride of your hearts destroy your souls!
"...And now, my brethren, I have spoken unto you concerning pride; and those of you which have afflicted your neighbor, and persecuted him because ye were proud in your hearts, of the things which God hath given you, what say ye of it?
"Do ye not suppose that such things are abominable unto him who created all flesh? And the one being is as precious in his sight as the other. And all flesh is of the dust; and for the selfsame end hath he created them, that they should keep his commandments and glorify him forever." (Jacob 2:13-16, 20-21)
Jacob certainly was a bold speaker who didn't beat around the bush. There is probably a tendency to either love his words or fear them depending on whether one is living by them or not. I imagine the Nephites probably felt similar, and that his words struck many of them to the core. Again, as we have discussed previously, according to verse 13, Jacob attributes the attaining of wealth to the intervention of the Lord. And in verse 21, he is solidifying the already established principle, that we are all equal in God's eyes, and should feel the same about each other.
Also, I want to draw attention to some powerful words that Jacob uses here in warning the rich. He says the Lord "condemneth" them and that their actions are "abominable." And then he warns them that this pride of their hearts would "destroy (their) souls." One might ask, "How can the Lord condemn someone for an abominable action that was a direct result of a blessing at His hand in the first place?" Or more succinctly put, "If the Lord gave me riches, why would he condemn me for them?" This might appear to be a valid question, but it is one that is most definitely answered in the scriptures, in a manner that is very straightforward. However, I am going to discuss this more thoroughly when we talk about the Lord's requirement for us in the "actions" section of our discussion (see PART 6 and PART 7). I want to stay on the topic of "warnings" for the time being.
The part I want to focus on here for just a minute is where Jacob, like before, uses the word "persecute" to describe the effect of the actions of the rich upon the poor. And he adds a word here, "afflict." So combining this with 2 Nephi 9:30, one might ask, "How does one who is rich 'despise', 'persecute',  and 'afflict' the poor, simply by being rich?" In answer to this question, we already have a couple hints here in Jacob's words. He tells them that they are persecuting others because they "suppose that (they) are better" then them (vs 13), and because they "were proud in (their) hearts, of the things which God hath given (them)" (vs 20).
To further explain this, we could add his brother Nephi's words. When talking about the apostasy of all churches in the latter-days, something which he saw in vision, Nephi refers to "false and vain and foolish doctrines" that cause people to be "puffed up in their hearts" (2 Nephi 28:9). He goes on to explain this further:
"Yea, they have all gone out of the way; they have become corrupted.
"Because of pride, and because of false teachers, and false doctrine, their churches have become corrupted, and their churches are lifted up; because of pride they are puffed up.
"They rob the poor because of their fine sanctuaries; they rob the poor because of their fine clothing; and they persecute the meek and the poor in heart, because in their pride they are puffed up." (2 Nephi 28:11-13)
Again, we see the word "persecute" used, as well as "pride". And Nephi indicates there is a correlation between the two.  This persecution exists simply by one thinking they are better than others, or being proud and "puffed up". It seems evident that there doesn't have to be a direct interaction between the two parties involved. In fact, Nephi points this out with an excellent worldly example. In verse 13,  he says that they "rob the poor" simply by having "fine sanctuaries" and "fine clothing." Obviously, they aren't literally stealing from the poor to build their buildings and buy their fancy clothes. But by doing so, they "rob" the poor nonetheless. How do they do this? Put very simply, they choose to focus on worldly things instead of helping others who are struggling. In a manner of speaking, because of their priorities, they are harming others. And in doing this, a natural result is that they become puffed up and their hearts become set upon their treasures. We can see that one doesn't need to be directly harming or persecuting another for the damage to still be done.
And the consequence of such pride and selfishness? Again, Nephi says:
"O the wise, and the learned, and the rich, that are puffed up in the pride of their hearts, …wo, wo, wo be unto them, saith the Lord God Almighty, for they shall be thrust down to hell!" (2 Nephi 28:15)
A few verses later, Nephi says that many will say, "...All is well in Zion; yea, Zion prospereth, all is well." What is the truth in such a thought? Nephi tells us, "–and thus the devil cheateth their souls, and leadeth them away carefully down to hell." (2 Nephi 28:21)
Nephi quoted Isaiah often in his record. And for good reason, too. If Isaiah saw our day and wrote for our benefit, and Nephi likewise saw our day and wrote for our benefit, then perhaps we should pay attention to what these men had to say. Nephi, quoting from Isaiah told us:
"Wo unto them that decree unrighteous decrees, and that write grievousness which they have prescribed;
"To turn away the needy from judgment, and to take away the right from the poor of my people, that widows may be their prey, and that they may rob the fatherless!
"And what will ye do in the day of visitation, and in the desolation which shall come from far? to whom will ye flee for help? and where will ye leave your glory?" (2 Nephi 20:1-3; see also Isaiah 10:1-3)
Are we starting to see the severity of judgement upon those who persecute the poor? And again, this persecution doesn't need to be direct. One never has to come in contact with the person they are persecuting with regard to this sin. It is just a natural consequence of something this "abominable." (again, see Jacob 2:21) And this has been illustrated partially through Jacob's and Nephi's words. Next, we will add more witnesses.


  1. You and the scriptures do not give any excuse for the acquisition of wealth. Great article. It grieves me that the LDS church, which is a wealthy church, doesn't use it's tithes to help the poor--less than 1 percent. On top of that, the church requires that the poor pay tithing above their expenses for survival in order to be able to attend the temple and hold callings, which is not in accordance to the Lord's plan. "Salvation is free" he says.

    1. James,

      You bringing up that "salvation is free" makes me think that you and I are connected to the same channels : )

      Just recently, my scripture study has brought me once again to 2 Nephi 26 where Nephi talks about how the Lord "worketh not in darkness" (verse 23), "commandeth none that they shall not partake of his salvation" (verse 24), offers his gospel and salvation "without money and without price" (verse 25), does not command any to "depart out of the synagogues, or…houses of worship" (verse 26), and offers his salvation "free for all men" (verse 27). To me, these true teachings seem completely contrary to the notion of requiring one to "pay-to-play", so to speak. And I don't think that it is chance that Nephi goes on in this chapter to discuss the dangers of priestcraft and it's juxtaposition with the commandment to have charity.

      Moroni, who saw our day, teaches us of the gulf that divides the true gospel of Jesus Christ and the churches that claim to follow such teachings (see Mormon 8:32-41). I strongly believe that Moroni's words were for those that Christ was referring to in 3 Nephi 16:7,10, or those who receive the truth in the latter days, but then through pride, reject the fulness of the gospel. After all, if Moroni saw our day, it seems quite obvious to whom he was directing his words of warning. Would they not be directed to those who actually read the Book of Mormon and his words? Would they not be to those who attest to be true followers of Christ? In essence, was he not speaking to us, the members of the modern Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints? I believe that he was. This conjures up sobering thoughts, as indeed it should.

      Sorry for the length of the response here. But your wise comments seem to prompt such responses at times. Thanks again for sharing.