Is abundance dangerous?

fortune-cookie

Hosea is one of those books that’s both extremely fascinating and troubling, not simply because of the illustration of God’s pursuit of his adulterous people through Hosea’s marriage, caring for children not his own and purchasing his wife out of slavery. (Side note: when was the last time you heard a really great Jesus-focused sermon from Hosea?)

The reason Hosea makes me uneasy when I read it, though, isn’t because of my spiritually adulterous ways (Lord willing, I’m faithful in that regard). It’s because of a different, but related, danger: that of abundance.

Hosea 10:1-2 give us a picture of what happened to Israel:

Israel is a luxuriant vine that yields its fruit. The more his fruit increased, the more altars he built; as his country improved, he improved his pillars. Their heart is false; now they must bear their guilt. The Lord will break down their altars and destroy their pillars.

God gave Israel great wealth and prosperity. And it seduced them. They had their fill—more than their fill—and they became comfortable. They became complacent.

They started to say for themselves, “We have no king, for we do not fear the Lord; and a king—what could he do for us?” (Hosea 10:3) They became proud and they forgot the Lord (c.f. Deut 8:14).

And so, God tore them down. He humiliated them, taking a great nation and making them a laughing stock. He tore down their pillars, destroyed their kingdom and sent them into exile.

Because God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble.

The great danger of abundance for us today is complacency and pride. That we’ll rely on our own abilities to provide for our needs, rather than on God who actually does provide it through the abilities He has given us. That we’ll stop seeing the wealth He gives us as a gift to be stewarded and used for His purposes and begin building kingdoms for ourselves.

It’s easy at this point to start pointing fingers. We can look at the excesses of North American Christianity and shake our heads while tsk-tsk-tsk-ing until the sun comes up, even as we drive to church sipping a $4 latte. We can look at the pervasive goofiness of prosperity theology, with its tendency to store up treasure on earth for the promise of heavenly gain, and ignore our own natural inclination toward the pursuit of the same.

At the same time, though, we need to be careful not to demonize wealth and abundance. They’re not bad things in and of themselves. Wealth can be good. Abundance can be good… but it’s probably really, really healthy if we find that they make us a bit uncomfortable. When stewarded poorly, they bring about our downfall, but well stewarded well, they can be a great blessing to others.


An earlier version of this article was published in 2009.