Faith in the Midst of Financial Crisis: An Excerpt from "Enough"

Now Featured at the Patheos Book Club
Enough: Discovering Joy Through Simplicity and Generosity
(Revised and Updated)

By Adam Hamilton

Book Excerpt: Introduction

(Reprinted with permission from Abingdon Press)

Stress. Anxiety. Fear. These words capture well the state of mind of many in America today. We have witnessed dramatic market losses, the collapse of the world's largest insurance company, the largest Savings and Loan failure in banking history, and numerous bankruptcies and mergers. Every day seems to bring another piece of economic uncertainty.

Recently, the American Psychological Association released the findings of a survey they conducted of 7,000 American households. The study notes that 80 percent of Americans are stressed about the economy and their personal finances. Half are worried about their ability to provide for their family's basic needs. Fifty six percent are concerned about their own job stability. Sixty percent of respondents report feeling angry and irritable and 52 percent report lying awake at night worried about this. The report concludes that, "The declining state of the nation's economy is taking a physical and emotional toll on people nationwide."

The causes of our national economic woes are many. Some point to deregulation of financial industries, subprime mortgages, the housing bubble, and even fraud as the principal culprits in what has been described as the worst economic disaster since the Great Depression. But beneath all of these direct causes are the deeper, indirect problems of the current crisis. These ultimate causes are not financial but spiritual. At least five of the seven deadly sins come into play both on "Wall Street" and "Main Street": gluttony, greed, sloth, envy, and ultimately pride all came before the fall. These led to absurd economic practices that bordered on the criminal. It was not simply the CEOs and Wall Street types who danced to this tune. It was every one of us whose 401(k)s prospered by their efforts. More than that, it was every one of us who abandoned financial wisdom and prudence and borrowed beyond our capacity to repay in order to buy houses, cars, and whatever our hearts desired. Unwilling to delay gratification, we used tomorrow's money to finance today's lifestyle. We stopped saving, took the equity out of our homes, and we charged away as if there was no tomorrow. But tomorrow did come. And many Americans woke up with an economic hangover.

Command those who are rich in this present world not to . . . put their hope in wealth, which is so uncertain, but to put their hope in God. (1 Timothy 6:17 NIV)

As Americans watched the stock market plunge, retirement savings evaporate, home values plummet, and the economy contract beginning in the fall of 2008, there was a collective sense that it was time to say, "Enough." When the economic house of cards began to fall, most of us knew intuitively that things had to change. We had focused too much of our energy and resources on acquiring more and newer, bigger, and better. The funny thing was, all of our consuming did not increase our joy in life—if anything it tended to rob us of joy and increase our stress.

Enough is an invitation for you to rediscover truths previous generations knew—wisdom that was drawn from the pages of Scripture. It is meant to be a guide and a source of encouragement and inspiration. In it, I will suggest that joy and contentment are found in simplicity and generosity, in faith and in pursuing your purpose in life. I'm not advocating that any of us live in poverty, but that we cultivate contentment and reevaluate what constitutes the "good life." There is no sin in having wealth. Money itself is morally neutral. It can be used for good or evil. It is the love of money that the Scripture says is a root of all kinds of evil. The problem arises when we make the acquisition of wealth and material possessions our focus in life. Here Jesus was right to warn us that we cannot serve both God and wealth—only one can be most important in our life.

The government has a role to play in times of economic uncertainty. But the primary problems that led to the economic crisis that began in 2008 are not solved by government policy. They are spiritual issues that require a change within the individual. The New Testament has a word for what is needed: metanoia—it is usually translated "repentance" and means a change of mind and heart that results in changed behavior. My hope is to invite readers of this book to experience metanoia—to see our money and our possessions with new eyes remembering, as Jesus taught, "One's life does not consist in the abundance of possessions" (Luke 12:15).

If we ignore these lessons, within a decade our nation will be right back where we are today. It is my hope that biblical truths such as these, combined with practical financial wisdom, will guide us to a different future—a future in which we've learned to say, "Enough."

For more conversation on Enough, visit the Patheos Book Club here.

2/1/2012 5:00:00 AM
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