“Why do we even need money?”
Asked my eight year old daughter as I picked her up from school. “To buy things” I replied.
I’ve become used to her asking questions as a kind of external processing more than serious inquiry, so simple replies usually land just right. Not this time.
“No! Why do we even need money? Why can’t we just trade things? Why do people want to make so much money? We don’t need so much money. Why do people want so much money?”
This wasn’t idle chatter. She wanted to know the reason, the basis for a defining structure of our lived experience. Goodness.
My mind quickly raced to my reflections on Michael Grabers Debt: The First 5000 Years, a modern classic on the history of money and debt. This book takes 544 words and carefully spells out the brokenness of our financial systems and, really, the way we force ourselve to experience the world as a whole.
I felt troubled. It’s one thing to internally wrestle with the horrors that frame our world, it’s another to tell my kid “this world ain’t right in the worst possible ways and now you’re part of it.”
I told her “This is a really important question Eve. You’re asking a really difficult question, and most grownups disagree on the answer. I can give you a small answer but we’ll be talking about this for many years. Is that okay?” She said “Yes!”
“One answer some people give is that it’s tricky to agree on how much something is worth. If a farmer asks for help digging ten holes, how much does he trade for? Two wooden fences if you’re a carpenter? Four pairs of shoes if you’re a shoemaker? Using numbers makes things easier to understand and maybe even agree about. So this is a reason people think we need money”
“I think many people believe in this Eve. But the reason people think they need more and more money is because humans are sick.
Our sickness is called Sin and one thing it does is make us really greedy, it makes us always want more, and more is never enough. And a way to make sure you’re always getting more is to be stronger than everyone else.
When your heart is shaped by greed and money, you don’t just think about trading boots or fences or holes with numbers, you turn people into numbers. And a number is something you don’t have to love, you just use it.
Our world turns people into numbers. And the more money you have, the more people you can turn into numbers, and you can take their work and things they need for less money and you can have more money.
And this greedy life, always wanting more, always turning people into numbers, is the opposite of love, it kills our soul, it makes it really hard to hear the voice of God. This is the way our world is built. And it’s very very sad.”
We wrapped up just in time to meet mom and siblings at the Banff market as we picked up tortillas and fried mini donuts.
I don’t yet know if what I shared landed for her. The call of the mini donut is too powerful and we moved on to other things. We took donuts home. Had fun on the swings. Went on living the beautiful life God is giving us.
But I’m thinking about what St Paul says about love in the verses above. Notice that he doesn't describe love as sentimentality. Love isn't a mere feeling, it has a specific shape. And the shape is our Lord Jesus.
To truly love is to inhabit the life of Jesus. And as you inhabit the life of Jesus you end up living like him. So our desired ways of living are compared to his, and whatever we like to do that he doesn't do is supposed to go out the window. To put on Jesus there is a laundry list of don’t for sure, from jealousy to orgies. Jesus also says a lot about money and it's always uncomfortable for us, so usually don't talk about it.
But when you live out the do's and don'ts of the life of Jesus, you begin to understand the core of his life is Love. And the foundational aspect of Love as Jesus lives it is that true love is limitless. It doesn’t seek to truncate itself in self-preservation, it gives radially for the sake of the other.
The things we enjoy doing that are on Jesus' don't list are things that, at their core, are about self-seeking pleasure at the expence of the other.
Orgies? Turns sex as a divine action that engenders faithfulness and love between two human beings into a vehicle of meaningless pleasure that splinters the souls and erodes attachment and fidelity. Oh, and turns a human made in the image of God into a mere object of sexual gratification.
Jealousy? A posture of the heart that conceitedly believes that goodness only belong to the self not the other, and is envious and bitter when the other gets good things. A life guided by ultimate self-concern cannot love.
But in Jesus we see and experience another way.
Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. John xv. 13
We see that Love isn't about the self over and above everyone else. Rather, Love pours itself infinitely for the beloved, even unto death. As Jesus did on the cross.
A life lived in the shape of Jesus won’t see others as numbers. A life of actual love can’t at the same time be radically concerned with the self at the expence of the other, and therefore attaining more stuff, more money. What would be the need if everything that matters has already been gifted to us by Jesus?
Jesus said: No one can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money. Matthew vi. 24
The question is: who is your master?
The answer isn’t given by what we say. It’s made clear by how we live.
My prayer for my life and yours is that our lives are continually shaped by Love, shaped by Jesus.