Opinion. For the Love of Money by Hal O’Leary. Another great article in the weekly section Just Hal on Yareah magazine.
1 Timothy 6:10
King James Version (KJV).
10 For the love of money is the root of all evil: which while some coveted after, they have erred from the faith, and pierced themselves through with many sorrows.
Given, as we are, to abbreviating everything, often the original intent is for the most part often—albeit unintentionally—lost, as with the biblical quote above. It is widely misquoted as simply “money is the root of all evil.” One would think that this alone would cause great concern for the faithful in possession of excessive wealth, and when we add to it another commonly misinterpreted biblical quote, the cognitive dissonance, if seriously considered, must weigh heavily on those in the upper income brackets:
Matthew 19:24 (ESV).
24 Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God.”
Perhaps I can ease the burden of those afflicted with great wealth by suggesting a different interpretation for both quotes, quotes that could be thought of as fateful pronouncements upon those who happen to be rich while at the same time adhering to the faith in search of salvation.
In the first quote, it is simply that the preface of the statement, “For the love of. . .” has been omitted. It is not that money itself is the root of all evil. It is that the “love of money” is what causes the believer to “have erred from the faith.” Not only has this misinterpretation led to either distress or doubt for the believers who find themselves on the right of a political spectrum that measures social success in monetary terms, but it has provided the non-believers and political extremists on the left with what are dubious accusations of sinfulness for the simple possession of any wealth in excess of the median.
It is the love of money that drives one to go from need to greed, which is, of course, one of the seven deadly sins. The amassing of wealth for the sake of wealth is, to my mind, inexcusable. Since we live on a planet with limited resources, greed on the part of a few must come at the expense of the many. There can be only one reason for such behavior. Money in excess of need can only be used to gain privilege or control over others. It must, therefore, be obvious that such greed will inevitably lead to a destructive competition, which, in turn, must inevitably lead to the destruction of the human cooperation needed for survival of the race.
It is this greed that has caused entire societies to equate the acquisition of money with happiness. The misery brought on by this miscalculation cannot be overstated. It is not only limited to those who suffer from the deprivation of needed resources, but even those with little in their lives but bank accounts, having spent such effort in the accumulation, must become disillusioned at the result in terms of happiness acquired. Even those with inherited wealth often suffer from the ennui that accompanies a life with no other meaning or purpose.
The second quote is not so easily explained. It seems to tell it like it is, but even here we find a danger in what might be an unwarranted interpretation. As with many biblical stories, there are similar ones in other religions. In Persia, for example, it is the elephant that cannot get through the needle’s eye. Obviously, neither one is physically possible, but Jesus answers both in this manner: “With man this is impossible, but not with God, all things are possible with God.” (Matthew 19:26). Another interpretation suggests that because the rich man is so often blind to his spiritual poverty and proud of his accomplishments, having contented himself with his wealth, he is as likely to humble himself before God as a camel is to crawl through the eye of a needle. This is further explained with the expression that nothing we do earns salvation for us. It is the poor in spirit who inherit the kingdom of God (Matthew 5:3). John Milton in his great sonnet, “On His Blindness,” picks up on the same theme with:
“God doth not need either man’s work or his own gifts:
who best bear his mild yoke, they serve him best.”
While the extremely wealthy may take some comfort in these interpretations, it must be pointed out that a focus on money as such does little to deliver meaningful happiness. I cannot, however, completely dispute Sophie Tucker’s confession when she said, “I’ve been rich, and I’ve been poor. Rich is better.” I think the real problem may lie with a false understanding we have as to what money really is. In truth, money itself is nothing more than a convenient means of exchanging goods and services, nothing more. Unless we have a desire to control the behavior of others or to retain, to the exclusion of others, certain material and behavioral privileges for ourselves as a sign of prominence, the coin of the realm is not only otherwise worthless, but it can enslave us with the necessity for devoting most of our time and effort in its preservation. It is entirely possible that we could become a prisoner of our possessions.