On Wednesdays I am going through the chapters of my new book Idol Thoughts, to discuss some of the basic ideas therein, hopefully in service of persuading a few of youse guys to part with a few pennies to buy a copy.
We are on chapter six now, which explores the thought of avarice. We have talked about gluttony and lust already; now with avarice something new is introduced into our minds. Gluttony and lust are both disordered expressions of immediate physical urges. They are matters of the body, primarily, and only secondarily are ‘thoughts’ about reality, as we make the fatal move of thinking that our true and vital happiness lies in the immediate satisfaction of physical cravings.
Avarice begins the great journey inward to more strictly intellectual projects, while still having an immediate physical expression. Where gluttony and lust, being of the body, are both matters of the immediate moment, of the urgent ‘now’, avarice asks the fatal question: but what about… tomorrow? Will I have what I need for my life… tomorrow?
Happiness as material security—this is the fatal mistake of avarice. It is not a matter of never making plans for the future, or not being responsible and prudent in one’s financial affairs. Dickens’ Mr. Micawber who lurches with his family from one financial crisis to another is not a picture of Christian virtue.
Where avarice goes wrong is that it locates our security for the future in our material wealth, and that it identifies happiness with that material security. The miser clutching his treasure to himself, the greedy tycoon never satisfied with his wealth but always grabbing for more, Smaug the Dragon on his bed of gold coins—these are the common pictures of avarice.
But we have to be careful not to leave it there, in its grossest and most obvious manifestations. Most of us do not sleep on a bed of gold coins (nor would we find it particularly comfortable, not being dragons). We are not thereby assured of freedom from greed.
It really boils down to a question of security. Where do we place our security? In things, and making sure we have enough things to last us? That seems… unwise somehow. Things are flammable, you know. Or is our security elsewhere? Say, in the heart of God?
It’s all about the future, and as Christians we have to take the long view about that particular subject. Our future as we understand it is going to be considerably more than the eighty or ninety years we may hope for, and if our one wealth is what we own… well, I don’t think They receive that currency There.
Money and goods are important in securing our future, though—the Gospels are clear on that point. But the security lies not in hoarding but in sharing, not in piling up but in clearing out, not in taking but in giving. It is impossible to read the Gospels thoroughly and not get it that almsgiving, sharing our treasure with the poor, is of the essence in deciding our eternal fate. I could quote a half dozen passages to you on precisely that point, but really if you don’t already know that to be so, you need to crack open your bible and get reading, because it’s all over the place, directly in the words and preaching of Jesus Christ.
And this is the real damage done by avarice—it chokes off our generosity to the poor. And by doing so, by making it very hard for us to give alms, to feed the hungry and clothe the naked, it actually makes our future profoundly insecure, imperils our real future happiness. We are meant to be people oriented towards the future, but that concern for tomorrow rightly understood makes us intensely involved with alleviating the misery of today, serving the needs of our brothers and sisters today.
In the book, I give a whole series of Gospel passages to meditate on to counter the lie of avarice—it is a core theme in the Scriptures.
And avarice is a core sin in humanity, one that causes so much misery in this world, so much needless suffering of the poor and the abandoned. If every believing Christian took to heart what Our Lord says about these matters and gave what they could, shared what they had, so many tragic and harsh situations would simply not be so, so many evils would be averted.
But to do that we need to believe that Our Father in heaven loves us and is caring for us and that our whole life is nothing else but to live in His presence and share in His love, and that is where prayer and meditation on the Word of God comes in.
I have quite a bit more to say on the subject in the book, but will leave it to you to discover it there.