Is Poverty the Wages of Sin?

Poor people have understandably always treated the rich with no particular fondness. This can be explained by the fact that the number of poor people at all times and in any nation was significantly higher than the number of rich people, and people tend to condone their own social group and find faults with others. However, if you read the Gospel, the picture is roughly the same: the rich man from the parable goes to hell, while the poor Lazarus inherits the bliss, and in general the road to the Kingdom of God for those who possess a large estate is like an attempt by a naïve camel to squeeze into the eye of a needle.

But, strange as it may sound, the words “God” and “rich” in Russian are of the same origin. The etymology of the word Bog, “God”, goes back to the Indo-European bhágas, the benefactor or master. And the “rich one”, respectively, is the one who has received benefits from God. Only God can give a man everything that is good for him, because people come to this world with nothing and leave it empty-handed. Material riches were no exception here. Ancient people understood this very well: if you do not win God’s favor, your gardens will perish, your fields will be eaten up by locusts, and your cattle will be stolen by robbers. Your entire wealth would evaporate overnight, and you would be a poor man, indebted and never able to pay back your debts.

Whom doesn’t God like? A sinner, of course. Therefore, if you want to be healthy and rich, rather than poor and sick, try to live in such a way as to please God. The logic is quite straightforward, and the Bible has many compelling proofs to support it. In general, it comes down to the following statement: If God gave a man wealth and property, and authorized him to use it by taking his share and enjoying the work of his hands, it is a gift from God (Ecclesiastes 5:18).

Although, of course, there are times when God puts His faithful servants to the test. One can lose everything, including his family and health, like the Righteous Job. In the end, though, the truth will prevail anyway; the righteous man will become rich and happy again. The possessions captured by evildoers will no longer be theirs, and the wealth they temporarily gained will not bring them any joy in the end.

The excited King and Prophet David sang about all those things in his Psalms: A little that a righteous man hath is better than the riches of many wicked. For the arms of the wicked shall be broken: but the Lord upholdeth the righteous. (Psalm 37:16-17).

If we look at the topics that Jesus used to bring up in his speeches, we will discover that one sixth of them is related to money and property. Every seventh verse of the New Testament speaks of the material well-being of man. Yet, in this new discourse, the earthly riches suddenly turned out to be more of a burden than a blessing to the possessor. Wealth can seduce (Matthew 13:22; Mark 4:18-19). It is like a weed that prevents the word of God from taking root in the heart of man (Luke 8:14).

At first glance, it may seem as if the Gospel message is a complete rebuttal of the Old Testament view of wealth as a blessing from God. However, Jesus Christ did not deny this view. Just as in many other cases, His words were not a violation of the Law of Moses, but a full disclosure of what the Law of Moses had taught in a concealed manner. The worldly wealth as a sign of God’s mercy is overshadowed by the unprecedented opportunity to discover the Kingdom of Heaven here on earth.

The parables of Christ repeatedly emphasize that every man’s property is not his own and is entrusted to him for the time being by the true Master of all that is in the world. Wealth is still seen in the New Testament as a blessing from God, but it is constantly stressed that this blessing should be used responsibly. If you decide that God has given you wealth solely for your own pleasure, entertainment, and enchantment with your high social status, remember that the Master of this wealth will definitely want to see how you utilized the resources entrusted to you. This warning is most clearly mentioned in the parable of the unfaithful steward (Luke 16:1-9).

There is no linear correlation between godliness and wealth. Neither is there any correlation between sinful life and poverty. It would be an obvious nonsense to label all wealthy people as undoubtedly righteous, and all poor people as sinners, in spite of the common life experience of each of us. A sinful lifestyle, nonetheless, can cause a person to lose his business, job, property, health, and even his life. Steadfast adherence to God’s commandments can be a reliable foothold for an individual in all spheres of his activity, including the issues of material well-being.

Perhaps the best thing to remember is the Savior’s words that the life of a man does not depend on the abundance of his possessions. The only “accounting” that will have meaning and relevance here is not a comparison of profits and figures in bank accounts, but a constant remembrance of a simple thing that for some reason happens to be extremely difficult to keep in mind: we do not own anything at all. All these things that we think we have are only assigned to us by God for the time of our earthly lives. The more of this property we distribute to the needy, the less chance we have of hearing God’s condemnation in the Last Judgment.

It’s not just about money or property. We have grown accustomed to considering all our abilities and talents, natural beauty and agility of our bodies, strength of our intellect and dignity of our souls as our own. All of these things are not ours either. We have received all those benefits from the Lord. After a short period of time, He will ask each of us what we have done with this wealth. Did we waste it for our own pleasure, or did we, like the wise steward in the parable, give it away to those who needed our help?

Translated by The Catalogue of Good Deeds

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