Sunday, January 17, 2010

He’s Rich, He Must Be Very Righteous

It’s interesting to me that Latter-day Saints often equate financial success with personal righteousness when it comes to fellow members of the Church. It’s probably a result of living in such a success-oriented and materialistic world. However, I think most would agree that anyone can be monetarily rich, regardless of their status before God, as long as they are determined enough to make it so.

As Latter-day Saints, apparently one of our greatest tests we must endure in these last days is the acquisition of and proper use of wealth. Brigham Young once declared that “[t]he worst fear I have about this people is that they will get rich in this country, forget God and His people, wax fat, and kick themselves out of the Church and go to hell. This people will stand mobbing, robbing, poverty, and all manner of persecution, and be true. But my greater fear … is that they cannot stand wealth” (James S. Brown, Life of a Pioneer, Salt Lake City: Geo. Q. Cannon and Sons Co., 1900, pp. 122–23) (emphasis added).

Is wealth evil, then? Certainly not, since it is “the love of money” that constitutes the “root of all evil,” not money itself (see 1 Tim. 6:10). Indeed, President David O. McKay counseled that “[g]old does not corrupt man; it is in the motive of acquiring that gold that corruption occurs” (Treasures of Life, p.175). The false idea that financial success follows righteousness may stem, at least partly, from the following statement from Jacob:

But before ye seek for riches, seek ye for the kingdom of God. And after ye have obtained a hope in Christ ye shall obtain riches, if ye seek them; and ye will seek them for the intent to do good—to clothe the naked, and to feed the hungry, and to liberate the captive, and administer relief to the sick and the afflicted” (Jacob 2:18-19)(emphasis added)

Accordingly, all those who have received a hope in Christ, who are true and faithful to every covenant, and who further seek for riches, will be prospered, right? Not quite. There have been too many righteous men and women (i.e., men and women that know true success in life) who have lived and died in humble circumstances for us to conclude that financial success = righteousness.

Instead, I propose an alternative interpretation to the term “riches.” The Lord explained in modern revelation the following:

Seek not for riches but for wisdom, and behold, the mysteries of God shall be unfolded unto you, and then shall you be made rich. Behold, he that hath eternal life is rich” (D&C 6:7) (emphasis added).

And if ye seek the riches which it is the will of the Father to give unto you, ye shall be the richest of all people, for ye shall have the riches of eternity; and it must needs be that the riches of the earth are mine to give; but beware of pride, lest ye become as the Nephites of old” (D&C 38:39) (emphasis added)

Thus, I submit that, in at least one interpretation, “riches” may consist of intangible heavenly goods, such as an increase in spiritual guidance, revelation, and, above all, eternal life. This interpretation further accords with the Lord’s admonition that where one’s treasure is, there will his heart be also (see Matt. 6:21). Indeed, if our treasure is God’s greatest gift (i.e., eternal life), our heart will certainly be willing to “clothe the naked, and to feed the hungry, and to liberate the captive, and administer relief to the sick and the afflicted.”


Anonymous said...

"It’s interesting to me that Latter-day Saints often equate financial success with personal righteousness when it comes to fellow members of the Church."

I disagree. I don't see that.
I do see an expectation that those who are righteous obey the commandments and follow the spirit and therefore, make better decisions and fewer mistakes. Fewer mistakes includes fewer relationship mistakes (like raising righteous children, staying happily married) and fewer financial mistakes (choose the right career, find the best job for their situation, avoid wasting money foolishly, be in the right place at the right time to find something that is needed for an amount that can be afforded, etc.)

Nate said...

I think you may be stretching that Jacob quote a bit. It seems like, in its own context, it must necessarily mean actual worldly riches. The context of the verse discusses seeking worldly riches with the intent to do worldly things.

I don't disagree with any of your other analysis about eternal riches, just to the extent that it applies to the Jacob quote.

The Lord's people have always prospered in a material way when faithful. We can see it throughout the Bible, the BofM, and modern times.

While there are poor among us, I think it would be accurate to say that the LDS population, on average, are more educated then the general population (there are studies that prove this). With that, we will most likely be more successful on average.

Anon raises a question in my mind: I wonder if the overall success is due to some sort of heavenly intervention, or if general prosperousness could just be a function of the "faithful" lifestyle. (I can think of many successful people that seem to be genuinely amazing people with similar attributes as a faithful LDS person)

Many things we do put us ahead. For example, my refraining from drinking easily gave me 10% points class rank in law school...there were many times I was studying while others were having much more fun. Additionally, living debt free can take any person in this country with an average salary, and make them rich by retirement.

I'm sure the Lord helps and blesses us, but he also allows us to succeed on our own merits. So for the intervention/own merits question, I guess the answer is that I will continue to assume I am blessed, but act as though it is all on me.

Jeremy said...

Nate, I agree that I am stretching Jacob's teaching a bit. Of course he was referring to tangible money in this case. However, on a different level, according to modern revelation, I can also see how riches can furter comprise something intangible and far more precious.

Nathan Shumate said...

"It’s interesting to me that Latter-day Saints often equate financial success with personal righteousness when it comes to fellow members of the Church."

I really see many more people decrying this than propounding it, either explicitly or implicitly.

Nate said...


I can see the phenomenon you discuss. In fact, I'm sure I've thought it at some point. It's easy to do after seeing that some of the leaders of the church could be a who's who list of great people. We have scientific, legal, and business geniuses in the first presidency and the Qof12. Also look at the people running BYU, BYU-ID, etc.

Unknown said...
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Anonymous said...

I haven't heard that teaching, but it is quite conspicuous in the church that priesthood callings follow this concept: "He's rich, he must be very inspired." Bishops are wealthy or at least very comfortable. Stake Presidents successful business men and General Authorities prominent members of their communities.