I’ve just listened to an interview with Walter Brueggemann on the topic of money, and as a result have his book on the subject on my wish list. I wrote a fair amount about property a little while ago (this is a link to the earlier post in that series), and it is very good to hear Brueggemann endorsing my view that possessions and money are not to be regarded, if you wish to follow the Biblical witness, as being “yours”; I like the concept of “holding on trust” which he talks of.
Of course, I anticipate the argument that we can’t actually run a society based on these Biblical principles. G.K. Chesterton wrote “The Christian ideal has not been tried and found wanting. It has been found difficult; and left untried”, and I am very tempted to agree. As I’ve written before, there seems evidence in Acts 2-5 that the very early church was trying to take a view of economics which was essentially communitarian (particularly Acts 4:32), but the experiment does not seem to have persisted all that long, and the injunction in Leviticus to hold a regular “year of Jubilee” when all debts were cancelled and all land returned to its original owners does not seem to have been followed for very long, if at all – certainly there is no trace of it in the historical record; I ask myself whether the Pauline efforts to support the Jerusalem Church were in fact famine relief, or whether trying to follow Jesus’ and the Hebrew Scriptures’ injunctions regarding property might have had significant negative effect, in which case there would be some justification in saying that Chesterton was wrong in saying the ideal had not been tried.
But I really like the concept of “held in trust”. That would mean that I don’t necessarily have to pauperise myself, but can hold assets and money as long as I acknowledge that the primary purpose of this is to benefit people in general, rather than just myself and my immediate family; I hold them subject to an obligation.
OK, there is a general principle of trust law that trustees should not benefit from the trust, but a well drawn trust deed will include provisions for the trustee to be reasonably remunerated for the work they do – and besides, I am one of the class of beneficiaries of this particular trust anyhow, as are my family!
I think I can extend the principle, as well. I have (whether by nature or nurture, but in any event largely not by my own doing) a reasonable intellect and a good memory, and regard those too as something I hold in trust for the benefit of people generally.
And, of course, to regard my money, possessions and abilities as a gift is in and of itself something which can contribute to my own happiness, given the finding that people tend rather strongly to be happy in proportion to the extent that they feel grateful!