Fiat Currency

Fiat Currency July 1, 2015

Coin-in-fish-mouth

I don’t know what to do about money. As far as I can tell, it’s a totally malleable substance of no fixed value, and it’s remarkably responsive to spiritual realities. I try to budget, I try to be responsible, I don’t spend much. Sometimes, there is plenty of money, no extraordinary expenses, everything is sensibly budgeted for, and it remains almost impossible to make ends meet. Then a couple of months later, income will be low, there will be several unexpected expenses, the budgeting will look ghastly, and somehow, the money just won’t run out. The only pattern that I have been able to discover is that money is tight when I’m worried about money, and it’s free-flowing when I’m indifferent to it.

I’m not sure that money works this way for everyone. I’m assuming that some people have been given gifts of financial acuity and commercial prowess, and perhaps for those people money behaves more like it does in economics text books. I am not one of those people, and so far as I can tell, God does not intend for me to become one. Whenever I try to do it all myself, it’s a flop. Whenever I put it in His hands, it all works, and I don’t know how.

There is one story in the gospel that seems to partially explain this. Some men come from the Temple collecting the annual Temple tax. Neither Jesus nor St. Peter has any money, and St. Peter’s not sure what they’re going to do about it. Christ says: “Go to the lake and cast a hook; take the first fish that bites, open its mouth and there you will find a shekel; take it and give it to them for me and for you” (Matt 17:27). Neither Christ nor St. Peter have made any advance preparation or budgeted for the Temple tax, and they haven’t kept a bit of money in the bank in case they need it for a rainy day. They suddenly find themselves in need, so Christ sends Peter out to do his ordinary, day-to-day work. Peter works, and the money appears more or less miraculously, and that’s the end of the story.

God expects people to do the things that they are good at. He always provides the means to do those things, so long as He is asked. If I do my work diligently and faithfully, the money is there. If I spend my time worrying about the money and end up ignoring my actual duties and responsibilities in a flurry of fruitless anxiety, then the money will always be short.

I think that a lot of people who have no talent with money end up being poor and anxious for their entire lives because they feel that God expects them to practice a kind of financial acumen that they are not capable of achieving. It is like the story of the three servants: one is given five talents, another two, and the last one only one talent. The one who has not been blessed with much to begin with feels jilted: why were the other servants given so much more? Why was he only given one talent to invest? So, because he resents his position of poverty, he concludes that the master is unjust. He goes and buries his talent in the ground: after all, it’s only one stupid talent. How much of a return could he really be expected to get on that? When the master comes back, he’s not impressed; he has the one talent seized from the lazy servant, and the servant is cast into the outer darkness to weep and gnash his teeth (see Matt 25:14-30).

If the servant who was only given one talent had just gone out and been faithful with his one talent, then the master would have said, “Well done, good and faithful servant; you have shown you can be faithful in small things, I will trust you with greater; come and join in your master’s happiness” (Matt 25:21, 23). What does the servant do instead? He accuses the master: “I had heard you were a hard man, reaping where you have not sown and gathering where you have not scattered” (Matt 25:24). What is he saying? He’s saying that if only the master had given him more talents in the first place, he would have been able to get a return, but that the master didn’t give him enough for him to really be able to achieve anything — so he didn’t bother to try.

God expects people to make use of what He has actually given them, not to spend their lives ignoring their real talents and aptitudes out of mistaken feeling that they would be better able to succeed if only they had someone else’s abilities. From those to whom God has not given riches, He does not expect to receive a return on His investment of riches. From those to whom He has not given a talent for making and managing money, He does not expect a return on the making and managing of money. Yet woe to the person who has been given artistic talent, or a genius for mothering, or a green thumb, or a scientific intellect, and who has buried it in the ground because they resent not having been blessed with money.

Excerpted from Slave of Two Masters

Picture credit: Melinda Selmys

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