Thursday, January 4, 2007

I Wish I Had a Million Dollars

My family and I watch It’s a Wonderful Life every year on Christmas Eve. It’s part of our tradition. After attending our church’s Christmas Eve service, we come home to eat, see what’s in our stockings, and watch It’s a Wonderful Life. In one of the early scenes in that wonderful film, the boy George Bailey goes into Mr. Gower’s drug store where he has an after school job. He walks over to a cigar lighter, closes his eyes, and says, “I wish I had a million dollars.” He then clicks the lighter and when the flame ignites he exclaims, “Hot dog!” We see him repeat that routine later in the movie when he is a young man. I guess he really wanted that million dollars. He’s not too greedy about it, though. When his father tries to talk George into staying in Bedford Falls and working at the family’s Building and Loan, George gives all his reasons for needing to leave town, including his desire to make more money. “Still looking for that first million by the time you’re thirty?” his father asks, to which George replies, “I’ll settle for half that in cash.”

I wish I had a million dollars, too, and I’d also settle for half that in cash.

But I do wonder what it would do to me if I had it.

One day when I was a little boy my father, who worked at a textile mill, said to me, “Well, son, I started on my second million today.” I was amazed and impressed. “Really?” I asked excitedly. “Yep,” he said, “I gave up on the first one.” It was also my father who said, “You know, people say that money is the root of all evil. The Bible really says that the love of money is the root of all evil. But I say that the lack of money is the root of all evil!” He was kidding. What I’m wondering, though, is whether having too much money can lead to evil.

I’m thinking today about what it would be like to have a lot money and whether it is in fact possible to have too much because of two items that were in the news this week. First came the news that the chairman of a major corporation was resigning and that his golden parachute would be worth something in the neighborhood of $210 million. Second came the news that a prominent professional football coach was leaving his multi-million dollar a year job to take a college job that will also pay him millions of dollars. One wonders how much is enough. In his book The Misunderstood Jesus, Clyde Fant wrote about a survey in which people were asked how much more money would cause them to be content. The answer was 30% more. But the amazing thing was that people who were making $10,000 a year said they needed 30% more and so did people who were making $1,000,000 a year. It seems that no matter how much people have they just want a little bit more.

Jesus said that it was easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of heaven. He went on to say that what was impossible for human beings was possible for God. It seems, therefore, that it is possible to be rich and righteous. I have suggested to the good Lord that if he would give me the chance I thought that I could prove it. To this point he has not shared my confidence in me.

I think it was John Wesley who offered the best extra-biblical advice on money that I’ve ever heard: “Make all you can, save all you can, give all you can.” That’s good advice no matter how much money one makes or has. It seems to me that the Christian way is to use all that we have to do all the good for others that we can. The quest for more becomes problematic when we move from saving for the sake of the future to hoarding for the sake of security. The quest for more becomes problematic when our desire to protect what we have causes us to oppose policies that might help those who are in dire need of help. With more money comes more potential for giving and more potential for positive influence. Christians should use whatever resources we have to do all the good that we can.

I still wish I had a million dollars. But if I ever do, I hope that I do a million dollars worth of good with it.

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