One of the “ah-ha” moments in my faith journey was when I heard a pastor say once in a sermon, “Evil often isn’t the polar opposite of good, instead it is something that is good that has been twisted by giving it a priority it does not deserve.” You enjoy football as a hobby? A good thing. You enjoy it so much you are willing to neglect your family and other duties to watch or play it? Probably not so good. You really want an iPad. Good idea. You want it so bad you are willing to steal one. Bad idea. You want to protect your spouse or children? Good thing. You want to protect them so much you stalk them everywhere and don’t let them have contact with other people. Not good at all. You get the idea.
I am frequently dismayed in political and economic discussions that I read today that there appears to be a bottom moral line value that we place on making short term profits in all that we do. Just to choose one of many examples, let’s look at the the United States Post Office. Times have changed and people use email much more. So, it makes sense to scale back a little on its services. But the move today to fire scores of postal workers, dig into their pensions, and close post offices isn’t based on lack of use. It is primarily based on the argument that they aren’t turning a profit anymore. But might not the post office be providing us a service that is hard to measure in immediate economic benefits? There are many services our government provides that enhance our way of life that are not easily translatable into a short-term economic benefits on an accounting spreadsheet. We are being hoodwinked into losing vital services on the argument that we can’t do it if it isn’t profitable (translated as immediate economic profit).
Let me choose one of my favorite ones. Liberal groups love to show how much money we have “wasted” on defense spending and how spending for defense has gone up year after year since World War II. But the most successful war we ever fought was the Cold War. If the Cold War had become “hot” our world could have become permanently or nearly uninhabitable. Life, if it existed at all, would be back in the Stone Age for so many people if nuclear weapons had started flying (especially in the 1980s when both sides had stockpiled so many). But how do you show that on a balance sheet? Where is quarterly dividend in providing for national defense?
Our government over time has made our lives some of the most comfortable in human history. We are provided with countless services from clean drinking water, to public schools, to fire prevention and remediation services, to police forces. We publicly fund education, health services, retirement services, veterans services, public utility co-ops, national parks, public transportation, interstate highways, airspace management, and all this just scratches the surface.
So what does this have to do with good and evil? To want to make a profit is a good thing. Jesus himself lifts up in a parable of how a servant is expected to try to do more with what he or she is given. We should want our businesses to succeed, we should try to invest and grow our finances, and we should save for tomorrow and provide for our children. But if making a profit becomes the “be all” and “do all” of how we judge what is right and wrong in our world, we are lost. We have taken a good tendency and made it into a terrible idol.
There are some services that will never turn an immediate financial profit that are good for us, all of us. As we move forward, and try to reign in spending, let’s us never lose sight, especially as Christians, that the financial bottom line isn’t the only bottom line. Jesus told the rich young ruler what to do and he turned away sad. I think Jesus knew that financial profit for him had become the first and most important moral principal. Let us not make the same mistake.
Until next time,