Right now there is literally $100 under my feet.
I got some cash to use as change when people bought my books at a recent seminar. The unused money was put beside my safe which is on the ground under my desk. Yesterday, my daughter decided to ‘scrubble’ (how she says shuffle) it around, and I’ve not yet taken the time to pick it up and put it in the safe.
Ironically, when we lived in PNG, the average annual income was about $775 USD.
As I write this article, I’m using (as a foot rest) 13% of what some people will make in a year. In fact, the computer I’m writing on costs 70% of what some people make in a year.
Should I feel guilty about the money I have?
Guilt is the act of violating or even getting temptingly close to ones own conscience.
No doubt, there is such a thing as misplaced guilt, there is inaccurate guilt, and there is undeserving guilt. Guilt is indeed something that a person with false motives could use to manipulate us.
But, is there any theological, sociological, or pragmatic element of guilt that comes from God? If so, would guilt ever play a productive God-ordained role in our finances?
In his book, Productive Christians in an Age of Guilt-Manipulators, David Chilton says (pg. 9):
God wants us to feel guilty only when we are guilty of breaking Gods commands, and then we should repent and obey, and not have to feel guilty any longer, because God forgives those who turn to him.
Another way to illustrate this would be to discover God’s moral law. Moral law would include any teachings clearly written in Scripture. An example of this moral law is don’t murder. We could say that when a person breaks God’s moral law they should feel guilty. However, outside God’s moral law there is freedom, and is there any God ordained use of guilt?
Does God use guilt as a tool in situations where sin is not involved?
If it’s not direct, God definitely indirectly uses guilt to his glory in situations beyond sin.
In December, there was a young couple at a mechanic’s shop. They were clearly upset about something, and I asked what was wrong. They explained that their car broke down and needed a new engine. I gave them a gift card and left.
Then I felt *guilty*. (It’s always hard to know what exact emotion you’re feeling.) I felt like I could and should do more.
After talking with my wife, we decided to invite them over to our house so they would have a more comfortable place to wait while someone drove three hours to pick them up.
Was God at work in that situation? Was it appropriate for me to feel guilty? Was it even a feeling of guilt?
I believe that God can, through the Holy Spirit, utilize guilt as a tool to bring about his glory. Still, he may not directly be the cause of that guilt. God has always been able to use bad choices for his glory.
Our level of guilt should be proportionate to who we are.
If I earned a million dollars in 2013 and went and bought a $750,000 home, I’d feel guilty. That’s more home than we need, and since I’ve lived in a developing nation for 16 year of my life, it would be a violation of my conscience to live in a house that was that expensive. That doesn’t mean it’s wrong and you should feel guilty living in a $750,000 house. The place where you live in the States might make a $750,000 home a just above average middle class home.
I believe that God has given me guilt as a guide to know when my choices are most pleasing to him and when my choices are less pleasing to him.
However, guilt isn’t always the best standard.
My wife and I talked about this a lot when we went to Budapest last year. We used frequent flyer miles to fly over there, so our out of pocket cost for flights was $300 total. However, we flew business class and were treated very nicely. We felt guilty to be in such luxury. We stayed at a beautiful hotel (Hilton Budapest) and didn’t pay anything for the hotel because we used points. We were treated like royalty there and found ourselves feeling guilty.
In that case, I think our guilt was misplaced.
There is no standard to know when guilt is of God and when guilt is an inappropriate emotion.
Unresolved or unaddressed guilt can take an emotional toll like no other emotion. God doesn’t want us to always function with guilt as a primary motivation. Yet, when we feel guilty, I think it’s worthwhile to give an appropriate amount of attention to that emotion and to question its origin and its validity. God did give us the capacity for guilt. The role of guilt is to bring about change in our lives.
So, should I feel guilty if I’m rich and others are poor?
I don’t think I’d be able to find a single passage in the Bible (help me out if I’m missing something) that encourages the feeling of guilt because of our possessions.
Instead of guilt, I think we should feel obligation and responsibility as God’s stewards.
There is inequality in the world. We ought not to feel guilty that we’ve been blessed. Instead, we should feel motivated to seek ways we can use our blessings beyond ourselves.
Perhaps this would not be the case if a direct transference of wealth was possible. If I could give my $1,000 to you and you’d be $1,000 worth better off, then I could feel like my $1,000 has caused your suffering. However, the poverty around the world has not resulted from some people keeping too much.
I remember an Everybody Loves Raymond episode where Robert is struggling to pay bills. Ray and Deborah give him money and Robert decides to use the money to go to Vegas. A lack of money is not the only cause of poverty, and so my possessions do not cause others to be poor.
If I’ve made my money helping people instead of taking advantage of them, there is no reason for guilt. In fact, guilt would cause us to see our possessions as a ‘curse’ from God. Instead, I think the response to wealth ought to be thanksgiving. To see how lavishly the Father has blessed us. Yet, if I took those possessions exclusively for myself and was not rich towards others, then I’d hope my guilt reflex would trigger.
We should seek to be people who, when the righteous prosper, the city rejoices.
While guilt may be a tool God uses to change us (even in non-sinful situations), there are much better motivations that will help us accomplish more and bring more glory to God.
Do you ever feel guilty about your wealth? Do you think financial guilt is from God or not?
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