Sunday, November 30, 2008

The Seven Deadly Sins: Greed

If you aren't the proud owner of a twenty-pound unabridged dictionary, let me remind you that Christmas is just around the corner. The dictionary is capable of doubling as a weapon and I can assure you that the definitions in my unabridged are much more enlightening than online dictionaries. Take, for example, the simple word greed. Dictionary.com and Merriam-Webster.com use the following definitions: "excessive or rapacious desire, especially for wealth or possessions" and "a selfish and excessive desire for more of something (as money) than is needed." But my unabridged adds "an excessive, extreme desire for something, often more than one's proper share," and lists seven synonyms.

A couple months back I blogged about Best Buy's marketing slogan: You, Happier. I visited Best Buy again a couple of weeks ago in search of a VCR (lots of VHS tapes and a broken player) but they don't have them anymore. They didn't have the You, Happier. banners either, which I initially thought was kind of cool, but then the employee I was chatting with pointed up to the Happier, Holidays. banner. Ugghh. Best Buy's unabashed appeal to greed promotes the pervasive idea that more and better stuff leads to happiness. But consider our own grandparents: we have more possessions than they dreamed possible, and yet we seem to be less content. We can think of and have lived many examples of how more is not better or how that thing we just knew would make us happy did not. But we can't seem to accept that the formula always fails. Instead we believe that we just haven't yet acquired the right stuff.

Jesus tells us in the Bible that He came so that we might have abundant life (John 10:10), but He warned us to be on "guard against all kinds of greed; a man's life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions." (Luke 12:15). So obviously an abundant life is not a function of stuff. So why are we so inclined to this excessive, rapacious, extreme desire? Given how rich our society is as a whole, greed is even hard to pinpoint. Sometimes it's manifested personally as tightfistedness or an unquenchable thirst for more, but sometimes it's more social in nature, wanting to have more than others or wanting what belongs to others. Greed is not knowing what is enough, it's not living the virtue of temperance, and at its core it's a disposition of the heart about stuff. So really only you know how greedy you are. Well, you and your Maker.

So what's the cure for greed. It's actually quite simple. I found it right there in my beloved unabridged. The antonym for greed and its cure is generosity. I said it was simple, not easy!

Think of the most generous person you know. Don't you just love and admire that person? Now, think of the most generous person that ever lived? And I'm not talking about Bill or Melinda Gates. Although it's truly incredible how much their foundation has given, the biblical view on giving is proportionality and so they haven't given as much as the impoverished woman who gave her last two coins (Luke 21). And the most generous person who ever lived was Jesus Christ. He wasn't generous in terms of giving away great wealth (there's no evidence that he ever had much), but He loved people. He took time for people. He asked for the little children to be brought to Him. And ultimately He died a brutal death for the scoffers who spit at him. Now that's generosity.

We are called to emulate His loving and generous spirit. (John 13). It is a high standard -- one that we can only hope to work toward.

Let me close with a thought-provoking and convicting question: "If anyone has material possessions and sees his brother in need but has no pity on him, how can the love of God be in him?" (1 John 3: 17)


7 comments:

Kimberly said...

What an appropriate time of year to focus on Greed. Eek.

My hubs and I were just talking about contentment the other night. And I was thinking...I have a pretty comfortable life. Not extravagant, but quite comfortable. And I feel mostly content. But I wonder, if I weren't so comfortable, would I be as content.

I hope so.

But it is one of the reasons we are trying to focus on Advent, not "christmas" per se.

Nate Cummins said...

It all started with the eye and was fueled by the invention of the internal combustion engine!

In the bible we are told that Eve saw the fruit of the “tree of good and evil”. She saw that it was appealing and that she desired it. Greed was “off to the races”.

One of the unexpected precursors to greed seems to be the inability of someone to take the time to appreciate those “simple things” in life that define where we came from, or should I say: who we came from. The bible says:……“be still and know that I am God”. I have often found that it is the “quiet” things that speak to my soul’s satisfaction more effectively than the loud things that “demand” my attention. Greed is in part defined by one’s inability to be satisfied with the simple things of this world.

I have always been an avid horseman. On many occasions I have been asked what I see in riding a horse. To most people, they stink; require a great deal of work, demand patience to train and a myriad of other issues that are regarded as objectionable. Yet, for some of us, they represent something very special. Now, you may be wondering what in the world this has to do with greed. Please bear with me and see if you don’t agree that something as simple as riding a horse has a lesson in it.

In Psalms 19:1 we find the words: “The heavens declare the Glory of God; and the firmament shows His handiwork”. Expanding on this thought; God’s creation reveals the nature and the purpose of the creator. Evolutionists suggest that the beauty found in nature is the result of “functional adaptation”, which suggests that all the flowers and trees, colorful birds and animals and systems that function harmoniously within the biosphere do so as out of the need to survive. The believers in a Creator have a very different perspective of why all the beautiful variations in nature. This perspective does not rule out the functionality in nature, but adds the dimension of pleasure of this beauty as it operates in “designed function”. Purpose requires thought, thought requires intellect.

Back to riding a horse: Did you ever have the experience of driving though a community day after day, when for some reason, you found yourself walking those same roads? If this has happened to you, I’ll bet you noticed things you’d never “seen before”. When I ride a horse, the only sound I hear is the creaking of the saddle leather, the gentle foot fall of the horse’s hooves on the ground and the sounds of nature. For some reason animals aren’t intimidated by another four-legged creature, so they become unusually accessible to my observation. As you ride along you cannot help but notice that everything has a purpose and that the sites, smells and sounds have a peaceful, quieting effect on you. Have you ever considered the fact that the green color of the trees and plant life is the most soothing color on your eyes? I remember looking at pictures that were taken from the moon’s surface. The heavens surrounding the moon are black, yet the same heavens viewed from earth are a beautiful blue. It becomes obvious that God wanted us to live in an aesthetic and physically appealing environment. In this “natural state” you are filled with the presence of the loving Creator. I never have a ride where I’ve experienced these things without feeling a satisfied feeling come over me. I want nothing more……. I have been near God. As the songwriter put it: “The things of this earth become strangely dim in the light of his glory and grace”……..

N.B. Cummins

Anonymous said...

Funny that we blogged about the same issue indirectly. This time of year I am filled with a yearning to help others yet wanting for ourselves as well. I asked myself this year if I would be willing to sacrific things for my children to give more to those without. When you live comfortably it's easy to give to both yourself (or your children) AND to the needy. But then where does the sacrific come in or greed go out? Thanks for helping me keep my focus in check!

Melissa Brown said...

The last comment was me by the way....not quite sure why I came up "anonymous"

E said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Elise said...

I find this topic fascinating. Having worked with children for years and now having two of my own, I wonder where this "need" for "things" comes from and of all the lessons we teach, who is teaching entitlement? It's a fine line with the upcoming generations between entitlement and greed.

When I was a kid, I remember not having much and thinking "who the heck decided parachute pants were cool?" Although I didn't know, I sure did wish I had them...to go along with the moon boots I wished I had.

It would seem that the Bible, although full of messages of morals and values, is simply a book. Anyone can read it. The meaning put into what we read comes from the reader. For example, my children read portions of it and to them, it's still just words. The "job" of learning the message comes from me and those around them. It's a tough message to portray when they see you humble...while others who seemingly have "more" portray a sense of "power." The message "have more, buy more, get more, nothing is enough, you can be better, get smarter, live longer, etc." all eludes to the idea that being content may simply "accepting less" and "settling."

Gone are the generations of intrinsic motivation and doing well because that is what you expect from yourself. Extrinsically, our culture THRIVES on achievement, recognition, money, status, and trophies to reflect one's accomplishment. I can't tell you, as a supervisor, the amount of times employees say "what is the incentive" or "I need more positive feedback." Well, on one hand I say "who doesn't need positive reinforcement" while on the other hand I think "what ever happened to knowing you do well because your heart is in it and your effort never waivers?"

Our society is ranked on tiers so that we can always strive to be one tier higher and thankful we are not two tiers down.

It simply starts with us...me, you, anyone...it's my job to teach the meaning behind the words and then lead by example...even if I fail...get up (resiliance), admit my shortcoming (humble) and push forward (persevere).

Somewhere we decided that we had to give everyone a medal despite their accomplishment and along the way, is it possible that we misled people? For example, if kids grow up thinking they are all good and equal at all things, where do they learn to find their nitche and excel in their skill? Instead, we risk them feeling entitled and assuming everything comes with little effort.

Having suffered loss on many levels at many different stages in life, I'm aware that clothes tear, cars break down, money burns, and health has no guarentees. Who cares if you have millions in the bank to retire if you die at 45 or fail to build relationships along the way so you end up alone with no one to share in your retirement?

Greed may be innate, but feeding it is nurtured...you can't teach what you don't practice. Take a lesser paying job to travel less and be at home TODAY. Teach children to earn before you give without effort. Give...even when you don't have...be it time, money, or attention. Who will really care about tomorrow if you ignored today because you spent it focusing on what you wish to come rather than what you already had? There will never again be another 12/07/2008.

Elise said...

Kristy, kind of a side note...but since I mentioned it in my response to you, I thought I would include it in case you were curious or interested in checking out your motivations for things. :)

The Work Preference Inventory

Complete this chart and then discover your intrinsic and extrinsic motivations. Be as honest as possible and try to guess ahead of time what you think you may be...then review your results and discover your own motivations.

Respond to each of the following items, using a scale from:

1=never or almost never to 4=always or almost always true of me.

1. I am not that concerned about what other people think of me.
2. I prefer having someone set clear goals for me in my work.
3. The more difficult the problem, the more I enjoy trying to solve it.
4. I am keenly aware of the goals I have for getting good grades.
5. I want my work to provide me with opportunities for increasing my knowledge and skills.
6. To me, success means doing better than other people.
7. I prefer to figure things out for myself.
8. No matter what the outcome of a project, I am satisfied if I feel I gained a new experience.
9. I enjoy relatively simple, straightforward tasks.
10. I am keenly aware of the GPA goals I have for myself.
11. Curiosity is the driving force behind much of what I do.
12. I'm much less concerned with what work I do than what I get for it.
13. I enjoy tackling problems that are completely new to me.
14. I prefer work I know I can do well over work that stretches my abilities.
15. I'm concerned about how other people are going to react to my ideas.
16. I seldom think about grades and awards.
17. I'm more comfortable when I get to set my own goals.
18. I believe there is no point in doing a good job if nobody else knows about it.
19. I am strongly motivated by the grades I can earn.
20. I prefer working on projects with clearly specified procedures.
21. As long as I can do what I enjoy, I'm not that concerned about exactly what grades or awards I can earn.
22. I enjoy doing work that is so absorbing that I forget about everything else.
23. I am strongly motivated by the recognition I can earn from other people.
24. I have to feel that I'm earning something for what I do.
25. I enjoy trying to solve complex problems.
26. It is important for me to have an outlet for self-expression.
27. I want to find out how good I really can be at my work.
28. I want other people to find out how good I really can be at my work.
29. What matters most to me is enjoying what I do.


To determine your Intrinsic Motivation score, first reverse your scores for items 9 and 14 (that means that if you selected 1, you'll switch it to a 4, 2=3, 3=2, 4=1). Next, add the numbers in response to items 3, 5, 7, 8, 9, 11, 13, 14, 17, 20, 23, 26, 27, and 28.

For your Extrinsic Motivation score, reverse your scores (1=4, 2=3, 3=2, 4=1) for items 1, 16, and 22, and then add the numbers in response to items 1, 2, 4, 6, 10, 12, 15, 16, 18, 19, 21, 22, 24, 25, and 29.

Last, as you review your results, ask yourself if you should really be surprised about extrinsic motivations when we live in a culture that thrives on extrinsic rewards. Children are rewarded by parents from the beginning of their lives by earning feedback when they behave in a desired manner. Schools (grades or failing), jobs (pay raises or job loss), family (positive regard or punishment), relationships (recipricated love or punishment), social laws (punishment for undesired behavior), etc. are all built on extrinsic motivation (earned rewards or punishments). "If I do this, I will (or technically should) get this in return." When this is how we are nurtured...what else do we expect? What would our world really look like if we all walked around following only our intrinsic motivations? The key is finding a balance, a good combination of both, and teaching people to harness their intrinsic passion...to do well, simply for the internal reward of doing well.