Every Christian struggles to keep God foremost in his or her affections and there are a plethora of gods competing for that affection. One god frequently towers above all others across cultures and throughout time. Affluence is a god we are all tempted to worship.
When Ezekiel prophesied judgement on faithless Judah, he compared her to Sodom (Ezekiel 16:44–52). He called Sodom her “sister” and argued that Judah had fallen into the sinful same trap as her proverbial sister: “As I live, declares the Lord GOD, your sister Sodom and her daughters have not done as you and your daughters have done.”
When we think of Sodom, our minds immediately jump to unbridled sexual sin. Jude (v. 7) certainly highlights, and the Genesis narrative vividly portrays, Sodom’s sexual immorality. But sin never stands alone, and Ezekiel rebuked Sodom for quite a different transgression: “Behold, this was the guilt of your sister Sodom: she and her daughters had pride, excess of food, and prosperous ease, but did not aid the poor and needy. They were haughty and did an abomination before me. So I removed them, when I saw it.” The abomination that concerned Ezekiel was not sexual immorality but prideful prosperity.
We may be quick to claim that we are nothing like sexually perverse Sodom, and I hope that is true, but, if we take Ezekiel’s assessment into account, we may be far more Sodom-like than we care to admit.
There may never have been a time in human history when the wealth gap has been wider than it is today. One recent study found that the average annual global income is a little under $10,000. Luxembourg tops that list with a little under $50,000. South Africa comes in around $22,000. Of the 72 countries counted in that particular study, Pakistan comes in lowest ($3,000), but poorer countries were excluded. A parallel study found among the poorest countries the Democratic Republic of Congo ($46), Mozambique ($50) and Uganda ($92). The distinction is certainly sharp.
According to the World Bank, South Africa boats the world’s severest financial inequality. Here, the wealthiest 20% holds 70% of the annual income. A further 25% is held by the middle class, leaving a mere 5% of the country’s income for the bottom 20% of the country’s citizens. Might Ezekiel’s rebuke of Judah apply as equally to South Africa? Might it apply as equally to South African Christians?
It is easy to understand the idolatrous pull of affluence. Money gives the illusion of godlike ability to control the world and the future. Shrewdly employed, wealth can turn kings and judges. It can afford a degree of security in times of scarcity. It can create opportunities that the less fortunate lack. With the advent of modern banking, and now Apple Wallet and Google Pay, our affluence omnipresent. No wonder we are tempted to worship it.
But how do we know that we have fallen prey to idolising affluence? Here are three diagnostic questions.
First, do you find yourself ever on the quest for more, never satisfied with what you have? Do you, in the words of Martin Luther King, find yourself more concerned about making a living than making a life? If increasing affluence is your greatest pursuit, be sure that it is become your god.
Second, does your attitude toward wealth make you exploit rather than serve people? Do you use others to gain more from them or can you honestly say that, content with what you have, you are generous toward those in need?
Third, has your wealth caused you to forsake Christian ideals and principles? If Christian principles like generosity, sacrifice, and rest have taken a backseat to your pursuit of greater affluence, you may well be worshipping wealth.
In the Western-influenced culture in which we live, it is impossible to escape the temptation to idolise affluence. The question before each of us is, whom will you serve? Affluence is transitory while Christ is eternal. Affluence is with you in times of prosperity while Christ, your Shepherd, walks with you through the darkest valleys. Affluence promises security in this life while Christ promises security of eternity. Choose this day whom you will serve.