The sleep of a laborer is sweet, whether he eats little or much, but the abundance of a rich man permits him no sleep. Ecclesiastes 5, verse 12.
Do you think ‘the rich’ worry more? That’s a silly question, don’t you think? I mean, they’re rich! With all the clap-trap about “the 1%” and how that one percent stick it to everyone, do you think they worry? They don’t have to worry about things like medical expenses, or teenagers using drugs, or where the next paycheck will come from (or if it will cover our bills). Or do they? You know what? Maybe we’re deluding ourselves if we think that isn’t the case. Even if many zeros follow a one before the decimal in your checkbook, I suspect things aren’t that much different. Really? Really. I agree with this verse. In reality, it doesn’t matter whether I agree or not: it simply is true.
We long for the simple life. While writing this I’m sitting in my mother’s house in southeast Oklahoma. Her house is one of an 83 year old grandmother, full of memories, dust, heirlooms and clutter. If I look around, I see all kinds of things that I grew up with, and I see belongings from her upbringing as well. Many of her belongings talk about a simpler life. In the bedroom where I slept last night hangs a poem that used to hang in my grandmother’s Minnesota home. I read it this morning, talking about ‘my symphony.’ Nearby are pictures of my grandparents and my great-grandmother who I never met. They all lived in times that were simpler, with older technology and fewer choices…or did they? My grandfather was a self-made man who made a substantial amount of money that allowed him a somewhat affluent lifestyle even as he couldn’t ever be considered ‘rich.’ Yet he was much better off than his parents or his own 7 brothers and sisters.
If you visit my mom’s house you know you aren’t visiting the home of a ‘rich’ person. My ancestors were neither simple nor wealthy, yet the life they lived seems simpler to me. They didn’t have kids who communicate impersonally via text and Facebook. They didn’t struggle with rampant drug use, STD’s, sky-high auto insurance, Teen Mom (and all her peers in every town in America), and the like. No, they didn’t deal with those things. They dealt with world wars, high infant mortality rates, polio and tuberculosis, (what would to us be) third-world-like commonplace living conditions, insect swarms, slavery, and dying because it rained too much and flooded you out (like 10,000 people died in Communist China just last week). And in doing so, they had a much tighter, closer-knit family that was rich and wealthy in things that really matter.
I can only imagine what trouble we could get into if we had more money. I mean, if you get on the internet it wouldn’t take much searching to find sex tapes of Paris Hilton or Kim Kardashian. How would you like to have your private, intimate moments splashed all over the electronic media? Even if you derive some sick flavor of fame from it, that’s something I wouldn’t want to deal with. How would you like it if, as soon as you made it to the big leagues, competitors started coming out of the woodwork trying to knock you down to second place? How would you like it if people sued you just because you’re rich and they thought they could get away with it?
I’m not rich; you’d think I would sleep better. I don’t have to worry about the consequences of a business deal that may affect a thousand people and their jobs. I don’t have to worry about whether or not my accountants did their work right, or if they’re stealing from me, or if any inadvertent mistake might bring the IRS down on my head. I’m not wealthy so I don’t have to think or plan for what upstart competitors are trying to do to gain the advantages I’ve gained. Since I’m not wealthy, I don’t have to deal with the kinds of temptations that affluence lays at my doorstep. I’m only in the stage of doing a small business startup. I don’t have to worry about the kinds of things my self-made grandfather worried about in his business sixty years ago and he did it without the benefit of the education I’ve had.
Maybe the verse is making a good point.
People are just people. Yet I think we fool ourselves if we think that those who are better off than us financially don’t struggle with the same cares you and I do. Sure, some rich guy doesn’t have to deal with the kind of worries I have; he probably wouldn’t know what to do. What makes me think I’d know what to do with his kind of worries? Barack Obama and Mitt Romney are far wealthier than I have ever been and both operate on a level with which I’m quite unfamiliar. Yet both are exemplary family men, devoted to the people they love. Both have things to worry about aside from the national security and power concerns for which they are both campaigning. I don’t have to worry about the kinds of things they worry about just like they don’t have my concerns.
Perhaps, like the verse insinuates, wealth is actually a burden. Perhaps the temptations that wealth affords are a greater burden than we allow ourselves to see. Sure, the pursuit of wealth thankfully drives our capitalist system, and in itself this can be a good thing. As I mentioned earlier (paraphrasing the centenarian Milton Friedman) the combined factors of Judeo-Christianity and western capitalist democracy have lifted more people out of hopeless poverty than any other system devised in the history of man. Our western systems, especially those in free America, have been a blessing to mankind and yet they can also be a burden. With wealth comes responsibility How have you, me, or Obama handled our responsibilities? Don’t worry: it’s ok if you don’t answer.
I reject the concept of “you have to give back.” If you ‘have to’ then it isn’t a thing of the heart, and God doesn’t want our obligations: He wants us to really give from our hearts. That includes our wealth, and did you know that, for various reasons, the wealthiest in America give a far higher portion of their wealth to charity than those of us still climbing the ladder? It’s true despite what the 99% would have you believe. It is better to give than to be forced to give, to have one’s resources taken or compelled away. The rich man has much to worry about, not the least of which the temptations that his (perhaps hard-earned) wealth present. After all, in talking about those temptations, Christ Himself said “it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven.”
Game, set, match.
It’s really ok if you don’t think that rich people worry. I simply disagree with you, and I think the verse is on my side. I believe people needlessly worry no matter how much we make, and I’m not defending ‘the rich.’ When we heed the point that King Solomon was making, we would do well to find that we have nothing to worry about, that the worry itself is meaningless because God always provides.