Monday, September 22, 2008

Looking for God on Wall Street

The recent and continuing gloom among America's financial movers and shakers has led some of them to turn their backs on Mammon and seek a different spiritual reality:

Religious leaders said attendance was up at lunchtime meetings in New York's financial district last week, with many more people in business attire than usual.

That is hardly surprising, said Reverend Mark Bozzuti-Jones of Trinity Church Wall Street, given that people don't know if their employers will survive from one day to the next.

"The economic financial crisis is a reminder that we cannot put our faith in riches, that we cannot put our faith in money," Bozzuti-Jones said in his sermon at lunchtime on Friday, which he devoted to coping with the financial crisis. [...]

"People are just sitting there, praying or crying and definitely exhausted. There has definitely been an increase in the number of people who have come in," he said in his office after the service.

The church was putting on special workshops and seminars over the next few weeks including "Coping with stress in an uncertain time" and "Navigating career transitions."

While I would never raise an eyebrow at anyone's sincere desire to find God in the midst of crisis, I can't help but think of the parable of the sower when I read stories like these.

It's a human response to want God's comfort in times of distress. But the rush to church in the midst of disaster is sometimes a bit like what happened when the seeds fell on rocky ground; the seeds sprang up at once, but their roots could not go deep enough to sustain them, and they were scorched and withered by the sun.

The impulse to go to church during hard times--but never at any other time--is like this. It isn't a deep or rooted faith, but a mere human need for comfort, that prompts this impulse, and unless a deeper faith can supplant the relatively shallow one this faith will not endure during the good times.

Because while hardships and tragedies can test our faith, and while depth of suffering sometimes leads people to give up on God, it is one of the mysteries of life that the opposite is often true: that those who suffer, and endure tragedy, and accept tribulation at the hands of the Lord often have the deepest roots of faith; and many a man has fallen away from the religious habits and practices of his youth because times are good, and money is plentiful, and pride and self-centeredness lead him to believe that all the good things in his life are solely his own doing. Did he not make wise and judicious investments? Did he not plan his future, build his grain silos, capitalize on every opportunity, accept a certain amount of careful risk all for the increase of his own financial position? Has he not reached this pinnacle of wealth and material success on his own, with no help from anyone, and certainly not from a God he has almost come to despise as a kind of mythical excuse for weakness and carelessness on the part of those who haven't reached a similar level of success?

So when Wall Street falters, and fortunes are lost in a moment, and even the wisest and most careful of investments begin to look like foolish speculation, it's a good sign that some of those affected first by this reality will turn to God--a good sign, but not a great one. For as it is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the Kingdom of Heaven, it's also much, much easier for rich men to seek this Kingdom when their own kingdom is crumbling around them, and when the enemy is at the gate; but for a truly miraculous event, the men of Wall Street would have to be looking for God in the midst of plenty, and seeking Him while their own kingdoms of money and power were perfectly intact, perfectly placid, and perfectly capable of meeting all of their material needs.

1 comment:

GraceHead said...

AIG debacle has been in the works for a while.
Imagine you praying over being ripped-off by an insurance company. Imagine that you have a unique gift so that God's voice often sounds audible to you, such that you can write down stuff that you hear word for word. How strange would it sound to be interrupted during your prayer to have God rant about how insurance companies are going to fail and the bigger they are the harder they will fall? Imagine again, that all of this happens years before anyone has heard of the looming financial crisis that is unfolding before our eyes. Well, as amazing as that all sounds it happened to a friend of mine, Timothy, on May 18, 2005 and it is published for anyone who is interested:

"The Giants of This World Will Fall...Stand Not in Their Shadow / Timothy, be wary of things of dishonesty and greed in nature of those in whom you have dealt. Those in whom you have dealt, greed is at the heart of that which they do. Nowhere is help or compassion found.You are a number, a mere sign of your dollar. They will fall and come to nothing. ... If I come and remove and destroy all things, which are and lead My people into vanity, what is left?...Your life and your free will to choose, to save it or lose it. Blessed are those, who lose their life in this world for My sake...they have their reward. Woe to those, who lose themselves in this world to keep their life...they are lost. Therefore, out of love, I will remove all obstacles from their path, so they may see Me clearly and run to Me, for I wait with arms open.
All must crumble, all must be shaken.
All must be removed, all foundations broken, all must be moved from their places.
All will be done as it is written, all will be divided.
All will stand naked before their Creator so they may choose...
choose life and love, My people!"

Timothy did not know what to think of this at the time, but recent news has shed light on what he was told back then.

More recently, this letter has a few more details of the collapse: