Is Wealth a Blessing or a Curse?

John McAfee in Belize

John McAfee in Belize

As I write this, John McAfee is on the lam. Yes, the founder of antivirus software giant McAfee Inc. has now apparently been classified as a human “virus” by the police in the small Central American country of Belize, where McAfee has made his home since 2008. They are hunting for him as a “person of interest” in the murder of his American expatriate neighbor Gregory Faull. McAfee denies that he had anything to do with the murder. But he has gone into hiding, fearing that if the police catch him, they will kill him.

In a recently launched blog, McAfee alleges that he is being unfairly targeted by police and the media. However, the recently released e-book John McAfee’s Last Stand, by Wired magazine contributing editor Joshua Davis, paints a picture of McAfee as a man possessed by “ambition, paranoia, sex, and madness.”

For a timeline of John McAfee’s rise to wealth and his fall to being sought by the police in connection with a murder, see John McAfee, From Tech Pioneer to Murder Suspect.

John McAfee was once worth over $100 million. By 2009, his fortune had plummeted to $4 million. And though much of that loss may have been due to the recent crashes in real estate and the stock market, it appears that McAfee’s lifestyle may have had something to do with it as well.

In short, it seems that McAfee’s wealth has been more of a curse than a blessing. Instead of doing good and benefiting humanity, it appears that McAfee used his money primarily to buy pleasure for himself and to satiate his own appetites.

That’s not what wealth was supposed to be about in the Bible. In Old Testament times, wealth was considered a blessing that God conferred on the righteous as a reward for their virtue.

By the time of the New Testament, the idea that wealth is a blessing from God had come under fire. Whereas wealth had formerly been seen as a sign of God’s favor, and as evidence that the person of wealth was especially righteous, in the New Testament poverty began to take on an aura of spirituality.

Thus, in contrast to the Old Testament view of wealth as a blessing, in the New Testament riches are often portrayed as an obstacle to attaining heaven, and therefore as a curse.

Yet even in the New Testament, Jesus had both rich and poor followers.

So is wealth a blessing or a curse?

It all depends on the character of the person with the wealth.

For those whose hearts are good, and who focus on doing God’s will by serving and benefiting their fellow human beings, wealth is a blessing.

But for those whose hearts are greedy and self-centered, and who focus on attaining power and pleasure for themselves, wealth is a curse.

Wealth itself is neutral. It can accomplish either good or evil. What wealth confers on those who hold it is power to carry out their desires in a larger way than is possible for those who are poor.

The question is, are those desires good and constructive, or evil and destructive?

As we will explore in a future article, many people who have attained great wealth in the business world have gone on to found charities and other institutions that have brought great blessings to their fellow human beings. And in attaining that wealth, they have provided good and needed services to millions of people.

Others who have amassed a fortune have squandered it on buying power and pleasure for themselves, hurting many people in the process, and ultimately destroying their own lives.

John McAfee’s story is still unfolding. With conflicting stories competing for credence, it is hard to know where the full truth lies. But as it appears now, the great wealth McAfee reaped from his earlier innovative career has only aided him in building up a self-centered life that is destined for destruction.

Millions of people seek wealth, thinking that it will end their struggles and usher in an era of happiness for themselves and their loved ones.

But as those who do attain wealth can understand if they reflect upon it, wealth itself brings neither happiness nor an end to the struggles of life. Rather, it magnifies the blessings of happiness or the curses of destruction that we bring upon ourselves through the good and bad choices we have made, and the character we have developed as a result of those choices.

True wealth is spiritual. Material wealth is a blessing for those who become spiritual, focusing their lives on serving God and benefiting their fellow human beings, but a curse for those who remain self-centered and materialistic.

For a follow-up article, see, “You Cannot Serve both God and Money.”

For more on money, business, and the Bible, see, “What Does Religion Have to Do with My Profession and My Daily Work?

About

Lee Woofenden is an ordained minister, writer, editor, translator, and teacher. He enjoys taking spiritual insights from the Bible and the writings of Emanuel Swedenborg and putting them into plain English as guides for everyday life.

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Posted in Current Events, Money and Business
16 comments on “Is Wealth a Blessing or a Curse?
  1. faintsignal says:

    In my personal life? Being poor has been a blessing, though I still dream of riches. 🙂 I’m aware enough to know if I was born rich, I would be in a heap of trouble! lol

  2. faintsignal says:

    P.S. That was a creative move on your part to use “Sex” as one of your tags to reach those whom never step foot in the religion section. Am I right? 🙂

  3. So you can love God and mammon, as long as your heart and character are right? But if your heart loves mammon–as well as God–Jesus says that heart actually hates God (Mt. 6:24). Jesus commands his disciples not to lay up treasures on earth (Mt. 6:19). Instead, sell treasured possessions, give to the poor, and have treasure in heaven; for where your treasure is, there will your heart be also (Mt. 6:20-21; Lk. 12:33-34). The only rich follower who did that in the Gospels was Zacchaeus, who gave half of his goods to the poor and repaid four times as much as what he had gotten from fraud (Lk. 19:1-8).

    • Lee says:

      Thanks for bringing up some fine points and great Bible passages.

      This is too big a topic to respond to in a simple comment, so I’ve written an article about it:

      You Cannot Serve both God and Money

      Enjoy!

      • willie says:

        Excellent points..The Old testament seems to favor the rich but the New testament doesn’t. Why is that?

        • Lee says:

          Hi Willie,

          Thanks for stopping by, and for your comment and question.

          That’s a big question. But the short answer is that the people of Old Testament times were largely focused on externals and outward behavior, so their focus was on material blessings and curses. That’s why their religion emphasized material blessings and curses. However, in the New Testament some people, at least, were ready for a more internal religion focused more on love, faith, kindness, and so on. Therefore the newly forming religion of Christianity could focus less on material blessings and curses and more on spiritual blessings and curses.

  4. xiao says:

    I agree. Becoming rich is often bad for the obtainment of emotional, spiritual, mental, psychological or social blessings.

  5. Valentina says:

    The other day I was browsing instagram and stumbled upon a woman from my city who does fitness stuff, she has money a kid and a good husband they all have a lot of money, she kinda works for hera money but she comes from a family where everything was handed to her, she is also incredibly beautiful she alwayskinda says how blessed she is, or touched by God etc. My question is how can I love God the same way she doeskinda, when compared to her I have no beauty, im not healthy,dont have money and have to work my butt off to earn some money, ive never had things handed to me just because I exist. Obviously God favors her over me, isnt it unfair he asks for my love and devotion and asks the same for her? I mean its easier for her to love God after all he was fair to her and gave her advantages to thrive in this world that he didnt give to me.i would like an answer please

    • Lee says:

      Hi Valentina,

      Thanks for stopping by, and for your thoughtful comment and question.

      Yes, it does seem unfair that some people have all the advantages of good parentage, health, wealth, beauty, and so on, while others must struggle against bad parenting, poverty, lack of physical health and beauty, and so on.

      However, although our rather materialistic minds easily think of these external, physical things as blessings or curses from God, that is not really how things work spiritually.

      When it comes to our spiritual life and our opportunity to live eternally in heaven rather than in hell, external “blessings” give us no advantage, and external “curses” give us no disadvantage. That’s because our path to heaven or hell is determined by the choices we make and the actions we take within whatever our circumstances may be.

      People who have everything handed them on a platter—health, wealth, beauty, and so on—do not get any spiritual “credit” for that because it’s not something they themselves did or were responsible for. It is easy for such people to get rather full of themselves, and think they are better than other people because of their good circumstances and high position in society. But in the afterlife, and in our inner, spiritual life, none of that matters at all.

      Similarly, people who must struggle against difficult circumstances here on earth can and often do develop a strength of character and will that is harder for “the beautiful people” to develop. For “the beautiful people,” things come easily. But we humans don’t develop strength of character through comfort and ease. We develop it through hard work and struggle, and through forcing ourselves to make the right choice and do the right thing even when it is really tough to do so—no, especially when it is really tough to do so!

      This doesn’t mean that “the beautiful people” don’t have an equal shot at heaven. Those who use their wealth, beauty, health, and so on to help and serve other people in various ways, and do not get all up in their own business about how great they are, but are humble and thoughtful, can go to heaven just as the poor can. Jesus said, “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of God” (Matthew 5:3). Even wealthy people can be “poor in spirit” when they don’t think of themselves as great and wonderful, but see themselves as simply fellow-travelers with all of the other human beings on this earth.

      I know it sucks not to have health, wealth, and beauty. But that doesn’t mean you can’t build a good life for yourself, and travel the path toward heaven. As for health, you, too, can take steps to live a more healthful lifestyle, which will help your overall health even if you may have some health issues that won’t entirely go away. And as for wealth, as the above article points out, it’s not always a blessing. Sometimes it’s a curse. There are many poor people who have great joy in life because they have built good relationships with their friends and family, and enjoy the camaraderie of life with their fellow human beings here on earth.

      So I would encourage you not to look with a jealous eye on those who have more earthly blessings than you do. Yes, life for them can be wonderful. But it can also suck badly, as the headlines from the tabloids scream out every day from the checkout counter at the local grocery store. The lives of “the beautiful people” aren’t always as beautiful as the jealous masses might think. They, too, have their struggle and their pain.

      And you, too, are a child of God. God has good things in mind for you if you do your bit by loving God and loving your fellow human beings through active service to them as Jesus taught.

      Meanwhile, here are a few more articles along these lines that you might find helpful:

      I hope this helps. If you have any further questions as you read these articles, please feel free to ask.

      Godspeed on your spiritual journey!

      • Valentina says:

        Hello Lee, thanks for replying, I have read all those articles and I find them helpful, but it is really difficult for me to love my fellow human beings when all Ive known are bad people, who criticize me or hurt me, I am a very introverted person who does not make friendships easily, this is difficult for me to serve people, through my life I have tried to make the right choices, not because that will lead me to heaven or anything ,but because I feel this world is already rotten and I don’t want to add to it. As for religion, I am not a religious person because I don’t agree with what some churches say nor do I believe in organized religion, I have also had friends who are christian who turn out to be really judgemental and go as far as not fefriending people who dont share their beliefs, even when these people who don’t share their views are kind people who want to do good. As for not having earthly possessions, I know beautiful perfect people don’t really have it all but, I feel that the body that God gave me is making my job here on earth, extremely difficult. i cannot be happy with it and I cant love myself because of it, how does God expect me to love my neighbour when I can’t even love myself? It’s been so difficult that I don’t think I’m worthy of love or anything, just because i got this cursed body, which besides is unhealthy and its not something I can change with diet or lifestyle, which I already do, it’s a sick body and it’s what I got. Truth is I didnt get any earthly blessings. To make things worse, I had to move out of my country alone without my family because my country is basically destroyed. It’s not easy moving to another culture and being completely alone, sometimes when I talk to God, I feel like he isnt really there, because how could he allow such things to happen to me? I’m pretty confident I am not a bad person, so why does he punish me so badly? If I commit suicide then I will be punished either way and go to hell probably, so I really dont understeand why he would choose to give wealth and health and beauty to some people and not to others.

        • Lee says:

          Hi Valentina,

          I’m sorry to hear about all of your struggles, and about the situation in your home country. If you don’t mind my asking, what country did you come from, and what country are you living in now?

          Meanwhile, I’m glad those articles gave you at least some help. But the reality is that life can be just plain hard. While having some understanding does help, you still have to get up and face the difficulties of the day, day after day.

          May I make one suggestion?

          Instead of thinking of your physical and social “handicaps” as punishment from God, think of them as challenges to be faced, through which you can develop depth and strength of character.

          I don’t believe that God actually punishes or curses anyone. That is only how it appears to us humans. But I do believe that God allows us to experience struggle, pain, and suffering if God sees that in facing it we can grow spiritually. Your life is difficult. There’s no doubt about that. But in facing those difficulties you can become a stronger person than if your life were easy.

          Perhaps that’s a small consolation when you’re slugging it out day after day. But if you think of it as one long character- and strength-building exercise rather than as punishment, then it might all seem just a little less bleak and senseless.

          I’ve written several articles here about why, if God is all-loving, live here is so hard and painful. I could give you a few more links if you’re interested.

          Meanwhile, you’ll be in our thoughts and prayers.

        • Valentina says:

          Hello Lee, yes I would like more links about why life is so hard and the all loving God thing. I was born in Venezuela and had to move to Mexico about 2 years ago. That same explanation you gave me about enduring difficulties, struggle and pain was given to me by a friend not so long ago, it kinda worked for a bit but I can’t wrap my head around why God would give such difficult challenges to some and such a fair, merry , healthy and happy life to others, the challenges someone with beauty, health and money have cannot compare to the challenges to the less fortunate in my opinion, it feels as if God would favor some people over others, I know thats how it appears to us humans but I don’t see another explanation for it. When I ask these questions people often say that Im too imperfect to know God’s plans or that he moves in mysterious ways or that he is all knowing and all that, which only raises more questions than it answers. If you are God and all you want is people to worship you and adore you why not give easy healthy lives to your worshipers, they will love you that way, all he creates with his unfairness in life is people like me who dont want a relationship with him for this very reason, why should I worship or love or pursue a relationship with a being who clearly doesnt care if im struggling or my happiness at all? Of course it’s easy for all those celebrities or rich and beaituful people to say they’re blessed because they are then how come God asks the same of me when I clearly wasnt blessed, in fact he created me with no invitation whatsoever I didnt want to be created.

        • Lee says:

          Hi Valentina,

          Good to hear from you again, even if it is a hard story to hear. I’m sorry you were displaced from your country and had to move to a new country, away from your family and your familiar surroundings.

          It is certainly very true that none of us asked to be born. And unless you believe in reincarnation (which I don’t, see: “The Bible, Emanuel Swedenborg, and Reincarnation”), none of us chose to be born in the circumstances we were born into. And it certainly does seem unfair that some people are born into all of the advantages, while others are born into many, many disadvantages.

          Since you’ve already read the articles I linked for you above, I won’t repeat what they say here. But I would add that one possibility as to why God allows some people to be born into easy circumstances is that God sees that their spirit would be too weak to handle any real, serious challenges in life, so that they must be born into easy circumstances or they would inevitably fail. Others God sees have stronger spirits, and can handle more challenge and adversity. Mind you, I don’t think this is a universal rule. But it’s something I’ve often thought about people whose lives seem so easy. Perhaps God knows that they simply couldn’t handle anything more, and would inevitably fail if they were born into more difficult circumstances, or faced any really serious challenges in life. Many of the most powerful voices for change and good in our world have risen up from very difficult circumstances.

          Consider the example of a boss at work who has many different employees of varying abilities. The boss may see that some employees are only capable of fairly basic work, so that’s what the boss assigns them. But the boss sees that other employees have greater abilities if they are developed. So the boss gives them harder and more challenging tasks, not because the boss is being unfair to them, but because the boss sees that they are capable of more, but will develop their capabilities only if they are given greater challenges. And those employees, if they rise to the challenge instead of complaining about “unfair treatment,” will be the ones who rise up to higher positions in the company.

          So once again, I would suggest that you shift your thinking away from the idea that material comforts and advantages are necessarily blessings from a spiritual perspective. For some people they may simply be a recognition that that person can’t handle anything more than an easy life. And that they probably never will become a truly strong and powerful person in spirit. But once again, well-born people do also have their own challenges, and some of them really are very good and thoughtful people through the choices they have made within their own circumstances and struggles.

          I wouldn’t sell yourself short on thinking that you are too imperfect to know God’s plans. However, it may take us imperfect human beings many years to come to an understanding of God’s plans. God’s mind is infinite, whereas ours is finite. God sees all things from eternity to eternity, and arranges all things for our eternal salvation and happiness, whereas our minds tend to be stuck in our present experience, and we often don’t see where the hard experiences of our life are leading us until many years later, when all of our struggles start to come to fruition.

          So I would encourage you to keep asking these hard questions, and keep searching for answers. But also be patient. It may be years or decades before you have the experience and perspective to understand why your life has been so hard, while others’ lives have been much easier. You do not yet know what God has in store for you even here on earth, let alone in eternity.

          Meanwhile, since you asked, here are some of the articles that speak more about God’s love in the face of our pain and suffering:

          The last one is the first of a four-part article that digs deep into some of the toughest questions about God’s love in the face of so many terrible things that happen here on earth. There is some challenging and mind-bending stuff in some of these articles. I do hope you’ll find them helpful. And of course, feel free to leave more comments and ask more questions as you read.

          You are certainly not alone in your struggles. Hundreds of millions, if not billions of other people are struggling just as you are. Making sense out of it all is not easy, and can take many years. I hope the articles and conversation here will give you some new and helpful thoughts as you struggle with these issues in your own mind and in your day-to-day life.

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