Sunday, November 30, 2008
Giving to God
I once had to do a homiletics assignment on 2 Corinthians 9:6-8 and I ended up getting reprimanded for titling it “God doesn’t want your money”. Now I think I can make a fair case from Scripture that God has no interest in your money, but I’m not going to make that here. Don’t get me wrong, I am not against giving money to the church at all. Unfortunately the church has a bad reputation in this world that it’s only after your money. The sad part is it’s not hard to see why people would think that. When I was in college I attended a student church that basically had two sermons per service – one at offering time to convince you to give as much as possible and then the regular service. (Imagine my refreshment when I went from that to a church where the only secondary message was regarding communion!) However, while I don’t always agree with the methods some churches employ to get money (especially when it comes down to emotional blackmail – it’s tactics like those that make people end up feeling bitter and taken advantage of), I do understand the need. After all, buildings, utilities and cleaning supplies aren’t free and unless the pastor is a practicing breatharian, he and his family needs to eat. Besides, it would be very hypocritical to criticize Christians for supporting Christian ministries when just about every other group on the planet is doing the exact same thing! Methodists to Muslims, Agnostics to Alien worshipers, everyone (and I do mean everyone) gives money and support to organizations and causes they believe in (*cough* atheist bus campaign *cough*). My point is I fully support the notion of giving money to the church and I get why that is necessary. However things become a little muddier when it comes to the notion of giving to God. Believers are instructed to give by God repeatedly in the Bible after all. (Yes, I get how I seem to be contradicting myself really badly here but bear with me, I am actually going somewhere with this) This I believe is a source of much unhappiness and disappointment among believers. I don’t think the problem here is the fact that people give to God though, I think the problem is that people tend to give to the wrong God.
Some people give to the Crooked Official god. To them, giving to God is a lot like giving to a corrupt bureaucrat or traffic officer (my apologies to all honest traffic officers everywhere, its just that in SA, they kind of have a reputation for taking bribes to make tickets “go away”…) It’s basically like giving your offering as a bribe to God, saying “OK God, here is your money, now look the other way and let me do my thing here.” Of course that approach is doomed to failure since God is nothing like a corrupt bureaucrat and He has no interest in "getting off your back". In fact He can be pathologically caring when it comes to how you live your life. Isaiah 1:11-17 and 1 Samuel 15:22 makes it pretty clear – when you are living in sin, no amount of offerings are going to make God look the other way. God wants us to repent, not attempt to buy Him off.
Some people give to the Landlord god. The Landlord god is a relation to the Corrupt Bureaucrat god but the distinction here is that you don’t give your money so God can “forget about” your sins, rather it’s to pay God His "dues" so you can have the freedom to live your life the way you like it. Again, that doesn’t really work so well with God since it turns out he doesn’t want His “dues”, He actually wants to be involved with you and how you live. Jesus deals with this attitude specifically when He speaks to the Pharisees in Matthew 23:23 and accuses them of paying their tithes to the smallest amount – even on every pinch of their spice harvest – but neglecting to take care of the things that matter most to God. God clearly doesn’t give us the option of not being devoted to Him provided we pay our tithes in full. Instead He fully expects us to be faithful in both matters!
Then there is the Thug god. People give to the Thug god not because they want to but because they are afraid not to. I remember once sitting in a sermon about tithing and hearing the pastor explain how when you don’t give your tithes, you will end up losing that money anyway. Your car and your washing machine will break and your kids will get sick and all kinds of disasters will befall you when you neglect to give your full tithe. Now from this it wasn’t really clear whether he was suggesting that paying your tithes and giving offerings gets God to keep the devil away or whether he meant that God will come calling with a metaphorical baseball bat, but it sure made it seem like God was like those gangsters on TV who are always charging business owners “protection”. Maybe it’s just me, but something seems to be very off here. I don’t really see God extorting money out of people with fear and violence anywhere in the Bible.
Then there is the favourite of televangelists all over the world, the Slot Machine god. Not just any slot machine but a guaranteed jackpot slot machine! You give to the Slot Machine god simply as a means to make more money, a way to buy a blessing – enter tithe, pull the lever and out comes your hundred fold harvest of prosperity! Is that really the kind of attitude that God would appreciate? For one thing, it doesn't really work that way (unless you happen to be the guy taking up the offerings) and for another I think this is merely the “love of money” (AKA the “root of all evil”) just dressed up in religious garb and as such this approach is doomed to ultimately draw you away from God.
When you give to gods like these you are setting yourself up to be disappointed. Like I said right at the beginning, God doesn’t need your money at all. So why then does He ask you for it? Well there is that saying that goes “When the all-knowing God asks you a question, He’s not looking for information”. The idea is that when God asked a seemingly simple question, He isn’t trying to gather information, He wants you to realize something. I don’t think it’s such a stretch to say that when the God who owns the world and everything in it asks you to give something, it’s not because He needs it. I don’t think God needs or wants your money, in fact its pretty clear that as far as God is concerned, the whole matter of giving has nothing to do with your money. Maybe God asks because giving is important to us somehow. God isn’t after your money (and be grateful, for how would you stop Him from simply taking it if He was?) He is after the one thing He can never take by force – your heart. Maybe God asks us to give because giving is good for us. Maybe living for something outside of yourself, giving to something bigger than yourself is good for you and maybe that is why God asks it of you. I think that being miserly shrinks your world down and makes it ugly and small while being generous enlarges your world somehow. Maybe its just me but generous people - and I'm not simply talking money here - seem to be happier than those who aren't. Seems as if giving of your time, your energy and your resources, connects you and grounds you in a way nothing else can. Giving then is not really a matter of the wallet at all I think, its a matter of the heart, at least as far as God is concerned. That's why I believe the Bible when it talks about givers being blessed - some might just be a little disappointed to find that the blessing you get in return is not necessarily a rich financial reward.
Of course if you don't want to set yourself up for disappointment, it really helps if you actually give to the right God.