How Not to be Transformed by the Bible | The Middle Class Financial Cheat Sheet

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Some time ago I was teaching a Bible class in Cheyenne, Wyoming.  I was introducing the key concepts behind my book Transforming Your Financial Diet.

During the class I introduced our tendency as people to use emergency exit rationalization when dealing with the topic of Bible and money.

Here’s what I mean.

When we read some Bible verses about money, we refuse to let ourselves really wrestle with the passage because we feel so terribly uncomfortable.  We want so badly for our natural inclinations to win out.

So we’ve developed a defense mechanism called ‘emergency exit rationalization’.

What is Emergency Exit Rationalization?

Emergency exit rationalization involves finding small tidbits of information to coddle our conscience when we wonder if we ought to change.

Illustration: The Health Benefits of Coffee

I’ve never done enough research to know how coffee impacts the human body, but I don’t think I know anyone who started to drink coffee for its health benefits. People usually start drinking coffee socially, and then it becomes a habit that they continue. However, any time they hear that coffee helps reduce the risk of cancer, they’ll remember that fact.  Not only do they remember it, but they promote it.

What’s happened is they’ve justified their coffee drinking because they found a random health benefit.

However, if someone asked if coffee drinking is healthy, they may or may not say yes.

Perhaps I’ve been a coffee drinker and I’m thinking I should stop because it’s too much, or unhealthy, or whatever.  However, one day I read that drinking one cup of coffee a day may reduce the risk of cancer. (That is purely hypothetical.)

Then one day someone tells me that I should cut back or stop drinking coffee because it is unhealthy.

What most people will do – instead of seriously considering or evaluating that person’s advice is that they will default to whatever bit of information they have to justify their action.

“Did you know that drinking coffee reduces the risk of cancer?”

That’s emergency exit rationalization.

It’s not the reason we drink coffee.  It doesn’t mean drinking coffee is healthy. It means we have an easy way to escape really addressing the issue.

The Problem with Emergency Exit Rationalization is it Removes a God Ordained Tension

There are some Biblical concepts that I believe God always wants us to hold in tension.

Is the Christian life hard or easy?

Both.

Has the Kingdom come or is it coming?

Both.

Do we need faith or works?

Both.

Is it true that God doesn’t care about our good deeds, or is it true that God wants us to do good deeds?

Both.

When it comes to finances we often feel uncomfortable with the tension.

Here’s the tension – does God want us to enjoy his blessings or actively participate in generous giving?

The answer, of course, is both.

The Middle Class Cheat Sheet (aka A Guide to Getting Off the Hook When God Wants You to Change)

As a self defensive mechanism, we’ve learned some important statements to use during discussions about the Bible and money.  The thing to remember is that all of these statements are true, but we use them (I believe) so we don’t need to truly wrestle with the hard teachings of the Bible.  Coming to one of these conclusions after three days of study is different than coming to one of these conclusions after three sections of discomfort.

Remember:  All the statements are true.  If they weren’t true they couldn’t get us off the hook.

Statement: Surely God wants you to use common sense!

God has given us wisdom.  But we must remember that human wisdom is foolishness.

In my post on the poor and giving, I mentioned that I find it hard to encourage someone not to give.  If God has called them or if their love of God motivates them to give a foolish amount of their income, should I ask my human wisdom to trump the wisdom of God?

God does want us to use our wisdom, but God has required a lot of people in the Bible to do foolish things, or he has praised people for doing foolish things (by human standards).

  • A woman once gave all she had (two coins).
  • A woman once poured a year’s worth of perfume on Jesus.
  • A man was once asked to sell everything he had.

God desires submission more than common sense.

Statement : It is the love of money that is the root of all evil!

In a previous article on the love of money, I wrote:

They usually say it as early into the class as possible so that everyone can breathe a collective sigh of relief.  This effectively lets everyone off the hook so they can listen without actually wondering if they might be a lover of money.

The issue is that the love of money is the problem, but we’ve all convinced ourselves that we couldn’t possible love money.

It’s like a lady I know who always ask me to pray for her daughter who doesn’t come to church.  So what’s wrong with that?  I see the lady at church once every three or four months.

This statement is true, but it doesn’t let you off the hook.  In fact, it should put us all on the hook.  It should make us say:

  • How much money am I investing in temporal things?
  • How many decisions do I make based on the dollar?

Statement: That was a specific teaching for a specific person.

This statement, of course, refers to the Rich Young Ruler.

God doesn’t call everyone to sell everything.  As a result, we think God couldn’t possible be calling us.

Again, this statement doesn’t take us off the hook.  It should make us ask – am I one of those people whom God is calling to do something radical with my money?

Closing Thoughts

God is in the process of calling, but I’m wondering who’s listening.

It’s like the kid who’s listening to music on his Mp3 player who takes off his headset long enough to hear his mom say, “You really need to be sure to …” After a few seconds of listening to mom, he puts the headset back on thinking, “yea,yea, I know.  I know what she’s going to say.”

Sometimes we do the same with the hard teachings about the Bible and money.  We zone out after the first few lines because we already know what God’s going to say, and if we even start to feel uncomfortable, we’ve even got a few convenient emergency exit statements.

Am I being harsh or unfair?  Do you find that you ever use statements to excuse yourself from truly wrestling with the hard teachings of the gospel? (I know I do.)

Comments

  1. Scott F says

    OK, buddy. As I sit here drinking my coffee while reading your article, I have to say — You’ve pricked my heart several times on giving, spending, debt, etc but you have crossed the line now by mentioning my coffee. Enough said. I’m going to get a refill.

    • says

      Ha! Part of the requirement of being a Canadian Citizen is that you need to drink a liter of coffee per day :). Somehow I never caught on. Tea if my caffeine addiction of choice. It’s just one of the habits I picked up in PNG.

  2. says

    Well, I certainly think you’re right, Craig. This is something I try to guard against as I read the Bible, but I know it’s very difficult to do it well. We often don’t even realize when we’re excusing ourselves because we’re so ingrained in the way we do things and the way we were taught/shaped by our society. It’s a challenge to start really struggling with the tensions we find in the Bible, but I’m learning that I can only get to know God better as I’m willing to live in and learn from those tensions.

  3. Art Ford says

    I suspect that many of us have created a God and a Christ in our own image and we are comfortable there. Maybe I’m closer to living in idolatry than I think when I enact these rationalizations?

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