I never used to understand how people could struggle with restless nights. I understand now. For a number of years, I’ve battled anxiety and panic, and one of my triggers is money. Will there be enough? Are we saving enough for retirement? Can we do a better job with spending? How can we pay off debt more quickly? My mind can race. I can believe that if I had wealth, I would sleep much easier. Sound familiar?
In our study of Ecclesiastes, the Teacher, as we saw in the first post in this series on chapter 5:8 through 6:12, has been talking about money. He in verse 9, and at first glance I thought he contradicted himself. See if verse 9 makes sense to you: “The increase from the land is taken by all; the king himself profits from the fields.” When the Teacher says, “the increase of the land is taken by all,” he is not trying to say that all the people in the land benefit equally from the produce of the land, or that all people have equal opportunity to benefit from the land. He is saying that the increase from the land is taken by all the powerful he just mentioned in verse 8, the leaders that have each other’s backs, making sure they control the wealth. And the king? Well, he benefits most of all. The king and the officials in power are very concerned about keeping power and wealth in their control. All of this sounds very familiar, doesn’t it? A king who leverages his position to stay in power, to get rich, on the backs of the working class? It’s like the Teacher is watching our news reports or something.
This talk about oppression and injustice gives the Teacher an opening to comment on the temptations of wealth. He says in verse 5:10, “Whoever loves money never has money enough; whoever loves wealth is never satisfied with his income.”
In other words, as Dorsey says, “Wealth cannot give a person lasting satisfaction.” That idea reminds me of the phrase, “Money can’t buy happiness.” We sure try to buy happiness, though, don’t we? We believe money is the ticket to happiness. I can convince myself that if I pay off all my debt, and if I work hard to make money and if save money, I believe I will experience a deep peace like I have never known. As if the answers to all my problems is increased cash flow!
The Teacher goes on to debunk that theory. Look at verse 5:11. “As goods increase, so do those who consume them. And what benefit are they to the owner except to feast his eyes on them?”
Dorsey’s translation shows that what the Teacher is trying to say is, “The more a person has, the more he needs. Rich people expend much energy watching and guarding their wealth.” Bigger homes take more electricity, need more furniture, cost more in upkeep, need security systems. Newer cars…higher insurance rates. On and on it goes.
Money can keep us up at night. Have money and bills and retirement and the car repairs or the house repairs ever made it hard for you to sleep? It has definitely caused me to have some rough nights. That’s what the Teacher says in verse 12, “The sleep of a laborer is sweet, whether he eats little or much, but the abundance of a rich man permits him no sleep.”
What’s the difference between these two, between the laborer and the rich man? The Teacher says that wealth can cause us to fixate on what it will take to keep that wealth. If we have a large investment in the stock market, and the market is volatile, or if we own property, and natural disaster is impending, we fear we are going to lose our wealth, and we start to devise all kinds of plans. Those are the worries that can keep the wealthy up at night. Those are the worries that can lead us to commit acts of oppression and injustice, because we fear the loss of protection and ease and freedom that we enjoy because of our wealth. What this reveals is that our trust is placed in our wealth. That our vitality is based on our wealth. That we believe we can find security in wealth.
But those who do not own stocks or properties don’t have to worry about them. When we moved eight years ago to live in the same school district as our church, our previous house didn’t sell, so we rented it. We didn’t have the ability to pay two mortgages. I found that year and a half renting that house to be so stressful. Every month we anxiously wondered if our tenants would pay us on time, because we needed their rent money to pay the mortgage on that house. There were many times they arrived handing us handfuls of cash the day the mortgage was due. Those were stressful times, I think for both them and us. Then there were times they would contact us with problems: the dryer broke, there are beg bugs, and we had to expend the energy and emotion and money to deal with the problems. I was so glad to get out from under that! Me and being a landlord didn’t mix well. Yes, I get that there are advantages to investments. If we could have just stuck it out, that property would be worth a lot more now, and we would have an additional source of income once the mortgage was paid off. So the Teacher is not saying that investment and wealth are inherently evil. He is simply saying that they can become fixations. They take extra time, and worry and energy. We can start to believe that wealth is our hope, our savior, our peace, our life.
What is the solution to this misplaced trust? If we struggle with sleepless nights because of worry about money, what can we do? Check back into the next post, as the Teacher is guiding us to some help!