Wednesday, July 20, 2011

What ever happened to Avarice?

Greed is hard to recognize. I'm not sure we see it anymore. I can't remember the last time I heard someone give a talk about the pitfalls of avarice. Why? Because it is the grand assumption of our culture. Wanting more is always better. Indeed, our economy couldn't survive without it. Think of what would happen if all of us decided to confess our sin of avarice and not live greedy lives.

I rarely think about my greedy problem. How about you? What do you do to keep from being greedy?


JDTapp said...

It's a common misconception that self-interest = greed, hence I don't agree that the "economy couldn't survive without greed," (we spend whole classes dealing with the subject over in Taylor.)

But we do see avarice all the time; our recent financial crisis was fundamentally due to greed on multiple levels.

I think God's economic outline for Israel laid out in Leviticus 25 has some pretty heavy ways of dealing with human propensity for greed-- namely Jubilee. Hard to be greedy when you know you have to give it all back. But more fundamentally, God reminds Israel that the property they accumulate is HIS, and not theirs (v. 23).

I agree with Tozer in Pursuit of God that we're to have a similar mindset. He purports that even though Abraham "owned nothing," he was quite wealthy. It was Abraham's perspective of holding his abundance of possessions with an open hand that made the difference.

Quoting from "The Blessedness of Possessing Nothing,"

"There can be no doubt that this possessive clinging to things is one of the most harmful habits
in the life...its outworkings are
tragic...(Everything we have) should be recognized as God's loan to us, and should never in any sense be considered our own."

If it's not mine, it's easier (in theory, anyway) to give it up.

Anonymous said...

My greed shows up in what is next. It's not about big, extravagant purchases, my greed manifests itself in consumer electronics, in what I do with $20, $30, $40, with the "extra" at the end of the month.

Greed for me is buying into the notion that I will be fulfilled if I have an iphone. (I bought an iphone, and I like it, but it did not satisfy my soul.)

Rodney Reeves said...


Just because you heard it in Taylor, doesn't make it true. I'm suspicious of our ability to sort out the difference between "healthy" self-interest and greed. Call it "the depravity of man."

Think about how different things would be if we tried to follow Jubilee in American business. What would happen?

I still stand by my claim: if we lived out the idea that "I don't need more," it would cripple the current American economy.

Rodney Reeves said...

By the way, let me hasten to add: just because you may hear it in Redford, doesn't necessarily make it true, either.

JDTapp said...

To me, crudely, self-interest is: "An iPad would really make me more productive." Greed is: "an iPad would help me keep up with the Joneses."

It depends on what you mean by "cripple the economy." It would transform it. GDP growth would turn negative (GDP would become unimportant), but that's only one measure of the economy. We wouldn't starve by any means, and would likely be much happier. I think God wasn't concerned with the growth of Israel's economy so much as He was their total dependence on Him.

Unfortunately, the only way a system like Jubilee works is if the community is entirely made up of Spirit-led regenerated people.

In the absence of that, I think the question becomes "which system gives the best opportunity for people to fulfill their God-given gifts and abilities for the benefit of all?"

(I recently did a series of posts related to the subject, contrasting a particular theologian's approach to understanding economics to Christian economists who try to theologize economists).

Sorry to hog the space.

JDTapp said...

Sorry, bad link in the last comment.
Correct one.

Rodney Reeves said...


"which system gives the best opportunity for people to fulfill their God-given gifts and abilities for the benefit of all?"

I'm also suspicious of utilitarianism.

BTW, you're not hogging space at all. And, thanks for the link.

Rodney Reeves said...


One more thing: "the only way a system like Jubilee works is if the community is entirely made up of Spirit-led regenerated people."

So, you're not suggesting God set up Israel to fail since they couldn't be a "Spirit-led regenerated people", are you?

Rodney Reeves said...


One more thing (actually, I thought last night this should have been my first question to you):

"To me, crudely, self-interest is: 'An iPad would really make me more productive.' Greed is: 'an iPad would help me keep up with the Joneses.'"

To me your definition of greed sounds like envy. What's the difference?

JDTapp said...

"God didn't set up Israel to fail, did He?" Well, while Psalms says the law of the Lord is "perfect," its role is to be a tutor to lead us to Christ, correct? My read on Romans is that the Law shows us that we can't keep it, hence we fall short and are in desperate need of a savior. Does that mean God gave the law to set mankind up to fail? I think Paul says that's the point-- so that we stand guilty before God. (Is that a heretical way to put it?)

I think envy is simply greed directed at someone else. When we want more than we have simply for the sake of obtaining more and at the expense of others around us, that's greed.

Adam Smith's butcher example: You buy meat from the butcher to feed your family. The butcher gladly sells you the meat because he also needs to feed his family. You don't really care about the butcher's family, nor does the butcher care about yours, but in the pursuit of your own self-interests both families benefit from the exchange. But I wouldn't call that greed.

Greed is the butcher selling you rancid meat and disguising it as good so he can make the same price. Maybe the USDA mistakenly approved the meat, so he can honestly say the transaction is legal. He has good meat he could sell you, but he paid money for this rancid meat and wants to get rid of it at your expense.

Rodney Reeves said...


I don't agree with your "Lutheran" read of Paul's view of the law. God didn't give the law to set up Israel for failure (as a matter of fact, Paul finds that rather offensive, see Rom. 11:11).

But, you might be encouraged to know that some Pauline scholars read Paul's view of the law like you do.

RE: greed. So, greed only exists when it comes at the expense of another? That makes sense in a world of "limited goods" (the symbolic universe of the NT), but what about our world, where we think goods are unlimited? What do you think? Is it possible to take more than what we need without harming others?

JDTapp said...

Yes, I think it's possible. "Need" is very subjective, but if a person strives for more than he "needs" it could benefit others by having something created that others might really need.

I don't think we believe resources are unlimited. The modern definition of "scarcity" is the presence of unlimited wants in a world of limited resources. The fact that England has more trees now than it did before the Industrial Revolution is a testimony to the market's efficiency-- we figure out how to produce more stuff while using fewer resources, which is necessary in a world of limited resources.

I agree with M. Douglas Meeks that God can satiate desires, such that the "unlimited wants" part could no longer is applicable. If we only pursued what we "need," there would be a lot less stuff produced, but we'd be happier because we would enjoy God more in place of that stuff.

Tarquinius Superbus said...

RE: The Law

Didn't God give Israel the Law in order that Israel qua Christ would fulfill it?

JD said...

i wrestle with this on a daily basis. i recently started working in the electronics department of our local walmart. while its one of the highest paying positions on the floor, i'm philosophically opposed to the whole concept of "saving money [on electronics] helps me to live better". $1400 dollar tvs, videos games bought with cash before buying groceries with welfare checks, ipods and ipads and computers sold to people throwing good money to things that may last only a day. not to mention my own wanting of a new ipod or laptop or all the music i can listen to.

if i weren't so tired after i got home from work most evenings, it would keep me up at night.

on the other hand, i'm able to make connections and start relationships with people who need Jesus.