All things being equal, I would rather be wealthy than poor. Wealth has real value. The Book of Proverbs notes some of its advantages.
For one thing, wealth brings a measure of security to life.
The wealth of the rich is their fortified city,
but poverty is the ruin of the poor (10:15).
The wealth of the rich is their fortified city;
they imagine it an unscalable wall (18:11).
For another thing, wealth is a catalyst to friendship.
The poor are shunned even by their neighbors,
but the rich have many friends (14:20).
Wealth brings many friends,
but a poor man’s friend deserts him…
A poor man is shunned by all his relatives —
how much more do his friends avoid him!
Though he pursues them with pleading,
they are nowhere to be found (19:4, 7).
When I read these proverbs, I think of the homeless guy who parks himself on a bench outside the Starbucks I frequent. At night, when I tuck into bed with my wife after a long day at work, he’s outside somewhere exposed to the elements. And what’s worse, he’s totally alone. Wealth – even in small amounts – has real value.
By the same token, however, wealth’s value is limited. The rich only “imagine” that its walls are unscalable. Here are the realities.
First, wealth won’t save you from divine judgment.
Wealth is worthless in the day of wrath,
but righteousness delivers from death (11:4).
Money might be able to buy you out of some scrapes in this life, but it can’t do a thing for you in eternity. Godliness, not greenbacks, is the currency of heaven.
Second, you can’t take wealth with you.
When a wicked man dies, his hope perishes;
all he expected from his power comes to nothing (11:7).
The Pharaoh’s didn’t know this. That’s why they piled the golden trinkets high in their pyramid-tombs, only to have illiterate grave robbers relieve them of their treasure. Lasting hope must be found elsewhere than in possessions.
Indeed, even in this lifetime, wealth is uncertain.
Whoever trusts in his riches will fall,
but the righteous will thrive like a green leaf (11:28).
Do not wear yourself out to get rich;
have the wisdom to show restraint.
Cast but a glance at riches, and they are gone,
for they will surely sprout wings
and fly off to the sky like an eagle (23:4-5).
Investments are risky. Inflation is costly. Even the government can go bankrupt. And those are only three ways that this life can eat away your hard-earned money.
Fourth, wealth brings with it a unique set of insecurities.
A man’s riches may ransom his life,
but a poor man hears no threat (13:8).
Wealth may be a fortified city, but if you weren’t wealthy in the first place, there wouldn’t be a need for the fort. There’s no profit in kidnapping the poor.
Finally, wealth can make you a jerk.
A poor man pleads for mercy,
but a rich man answers harshly (18:23).
My father always said that your greatest strength is also your greatest weakness. In the case of wealth, the greatest strength is the security money affords. But that strength also walls you off from compassion toward those in need. And when you’re in need, it walls you off from people who would like to help.
So, all things being equal, wealth is better than poverty. But friendship is better than wealth, and wisdom better still.