Wealth and Luck

In today’s environment, the wealthy are increasingly scorned for being wealthy. Many believe their wealth is a result of being lucky in life’s lottery. You can find a number of articles and posts on the internet that connect wealth with luck: a large segment – perhaps a majority – believe that one’s wealth is the result, mainly, of one’s luck in life.

As a Biblical Christian, I don’t believe in “luck”, which is defined as good fortune or success that happens by chance. Chance, by its’ very definition, is outside the control of God. The Scriptures don’t teach that things happen randomly. For example, Proverbs 16.33 says “the lot is cast into the lap, but its every decision is from the Lord.” Other verses can be referenced to show God’s absolute sovereignty over every affair of man. For example, if the hairs on our head on numbered – in other words, if God is that intimately concerned with the details of our lives – then surely He is involved with every aspect and decision of our life.

The reason to discuss luck in relation to wealth is because the foundation for understanding wealth from a Biblical perspective is God’s sovereignty. While man points to luck in the disparities of income, the Christian holds two truths in tension: first, that God is sovereign and He gives to some more material goods than others and secondly, man has corrupted through sin and selfishness the opportunity for many to create wealth for themselves and others. Let me reference three different passages that form this foundation.

First, 1 Samuel 2.6-7: “The Lord brings death and makes alive; He brings down to the grave and raises up. The Lord sends poverty and wealth; he humbles and exalts” (emphasis added). In Hannah’s prayer to the Lord while giving her son Samuel to the Lord at the temple, she takes her dream of having a son and attributes (rightly) to God His full sovereignty in sending both “wealth” (in her case, a son) and poverty (in her case, a barren womb). Too support this, 1 Samuel 1.5, the writer notes that it was the Lord who had closed her womb. We might think that some have good fortune when it comes to creating wealth, but the Bible says that it is God who sends to that person their wealth.

This foundation is further explained by the fact that it is God who gives us the ability to create wealth. Deuteronomy 8 is abundantly clear in this regard: “For it is God who gives you the ability to create wealth”. The *only* reason we can create wealth in the first place is because God gave us the ability to do so.

Finally, in Psalm 50.10-12 we find that God declares His ownership of everything in the world: “If I were hungry, I would not tell you, for the world is mine and all that is in it.” God owns everything in the world – all the wealth, the money, the buildings, the land – everything. The only thing He doesn’t own is men’s hearts – and that is why we must freely give Him our heart to be in a personal relationship with Him.

Hence, the following is true:

1. God gives us the ability to create wealth

2. God sends us wealth or poverty

3. God owns whatever wealth we might create

So, what kind of a God gives some people poverty? What kind of a God has some people born in the slums and others in the wealthiest of homes? I don’t believe that God ever intended for there to be wide disparities between the wealthy and the poor. Before the Fall, we see Adam and Eve living together in the garden, engaging in generativity and being productive, but we don’t see one person hoarding more to the exclusion of the other. Admittedly, this is an argument from silence, which can be suspect based on the assumptions given. However, it seems to me that when man sinned, our economic systems became depraved as well. Man became selfish and our institutions became infected – unlike the picture we have of Adam and Eve in the Garden. Hence, ever since the Fall, we have had the wealthy and the poor. In a sense, the more we find extreme wealth or extreme poverty, the more likely we are to find sin.

The wealthy have a responsibility to give to the poor – to ensure that those who cannot work and earn a decent living for themselves – are taken care of so that they are not left wanting. In our country, the government is seen as the primary mover of funds between the rich and the poor. Most of what government does is transfer wealth from one person to another. My problem with our system is that government is infected by sin too: it is a highly inefficient way to transfer wealth. Wealth needs to be something that is not hoarded by the rich – it needs to be invested or given away. But it can be given away most efficiently when it is given person-to-person. The more institutions are inserted into the middle of the process, the more likely it is that we will find inefficiencies in the process. In some instances, institutions are necessary. I get that. But if you give to institutions, choose carefully. The larger point is this: those who are wealthy – nearly everyone reading this post – has a responsibility to give back. Our responsibility is to the Lord first and we will be judged for our faithfulness in giving.

It seems rather harsh for God to send poverty to some. I don’t like this view of God at all. But it is what the Scripture’s teach. God is not unjust in anything He does – yet it can sure appear that way from our viewpoint. For those living in extreme poverty, it might of little comfort for them to hear that God will take care of their needs – yet I have experienced this personally and have seen this in the lives of many I know – God did meet their needs when they were in desperate need. But consider the opposite might be true as well: sending wealth to someone might be more damaging than sending poverty. Wealth can insulate a person from feeling they need God. It is much easier to sin with lots of money than it is with little money. And the bondage that a rich lifestyle offers can be significant. Perhaps this is why Solomon wrote “Give me neither poverty nor riches, but give me only my daily bread.” Sometimes, God will meet the poor’s daily bread through the gifts of those who are rich. But please know that God’s heart aches when He sees unmet poverty or hoarded wealth. Neither are good – both should be remedied. But not by the government. Instead, the remedy should come from transformed hearts that freely give whenever God prompts.

Finally, I would rather have a God who is sovereign over the ills and evils of our world than to say that which is evil occurs by chance while that which is good occurs because of God’s direction. If God isn’t sovereign over all of life – both evil and good – then He is not sovereign at all. The problem of evil is a difficult one. Suffering causes many to shun God. Yet, it is God who is the only one capable of binding up our wounds and giving us the healing with so desperately need.

When it comes to the creation of wealth, God is sovereign. If He has given you wealth, you have a serious responsibility to steward that wealth with an open hand. You may be wealth today and poor tomorrow. Don’t build your lifestyle around the consumption of wealth – build it around the giving of wealth as God directs you to give.

Bill English, CEO


2 thoughts on “Wealth and Luck”

  1. In one of the key temptations of Christ (Matthew 4:9 and Luke 4:6), Satan offers Christ great material wealth and power. While I am sure we could debate the various interpretations of these passages at great length, in general I offer them as evidence in opposition to the premise that wealth is in someway unilaterally granted by God. It should seem relatively obvious that evil people are capable of amassing wealth and power as well. While you may choose to argue that it may be in God’s *plan* to grant evil people power and wealth, I completely disagree with any argument that ascribes wealth as God’s gift to spiritually deserving people, or that poverty is punishment to spiritually compromised people.

    With regard to the argument about “luck” in success, this really has two contexts:

    – The “Accident of my Birth” argument that reflects that we all don’t start life’s race at the same starting line. Many people inherit great wealth and power that does not reflect their individual accomplishments, spiritual or otherwise.

    – Luck as a euphemism to describe the sometimes harsh reality that our social and economic systems are imperfect in being able to connect individual potential with appropriate opportunities to reach their full potential. I don’t ascribe any good or evil to this reality, but view it simply as acknowledgement in the incredible complexity of large systems. Remember, it is just as often the wealthy that are as quick to ascribe luck as a partial attribute of their success, so I don’t agree that this is any form of “sour grapes” argument leveled externally against the successful in society.

    I stand in direct opposition to your assertion that charity should be individual to individual rather than directed by government. As has been demonstrated repeatedly through both principles of free markets (in the very few examples we actually have of them), and the wisdom of crowds, individuals are simply too corrupted with cognitive biases and ego-driven behaviors and judgments to be trusted with income redistribution. This is only exacerbated by the “Power corrupts” observation that has demonstrated the ability of wealth and power to corrupt even the most righteous people who acquire it.

    While bureaucracies may be subject to the manipulations and machinations of evil people as well, in general they are by their definition designed to insulate public processes from micro discrimination and political manipulations. Bureaucracies may be inefficient, but they play in important role in pursuit of principles of transparency and fairness inasmuch as the rules used to make decisions are codified and applied consistently to everyone. The danger of bureaucracies in this sense is they are subject to the tyranny of the majority, and can result in charity that codifies systemic bias. In this regard, the individual to individual or independent charity model helps mitigate this.

    I strongly agree with the overall principle of your article however with regard to encouraging people who are able to acquire wealth and power to in turn pay it forward and give it freely to others rather than hoarding it. In support of your argument, it is not specifically the acquisition of power and wealth, it is the impulse to hoard it that makes it so corrupting.

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