What does it mean to be “rich toward God?”
Jesus challenges me with that question in his parable of the rich fool. You remember the story; it’s found in Luke 12:16-21.
The ground of a certain rich man yielded plentifully. And he thought within himself, saying, ‘What shall I do, since I have no room to store my crops?’ So he said, ‘I will do this: I will pull down my barns and build greater, and there I will store all my crops and my goods. And I will say to my soul, “Soul, you have many goods laid up for many years; take your ease; eat, drink, and be merry.” ’ But God said to him, ‘Fool! This night your soul will be required of you; then whose will those things be which you have provided?’
“So is he who lays up treasure for himself, and is not rich toward God.”
From the perspective of a senior citizen, a retiree living on savings, investments, annuities, and Social Security, the rich man’s plan seems prudent.
His industry has been rewarded. He planned to protect his assets and minimize his risk profile. Rather than fritter it away on riotous living and a lavish lifestyle, he thought about his financial future.
At first glance it seems hard to fault his thinking. This is what any wise steward would do.
But Jesus sees things differently.
The atypical view of life
The Savior held an atypical view. The way he sees it, the man was destitute. His Balance Sheet reflected fabulous cash flow and abundant wealth. He was a prudent steward of wealth, but he was a foolish superintendent of the things that mattered.
He ignored the fact that life is short, that the Father provides all we need, and that one he would return to his Creator.
Life is tenuous
His failure to reckon with the tenuous link between body and spirit rendered him a pauper. He neglected to take the fact that he could perish at any moment into account. I think this is implied in Jesus’s rebuke, “this night your soul will be required of you.”
Perhaps being “rich toward God” is, at least in part, living with the knowledge that our lives are not our own. Our hold on life is weak. God could summon us from this world at any moment.
The Father feeds us all
In the verses that follow (Lk 12:22-34), our Lord clarifies the parable’s implication: If you trust the Father, you won’t worry about whence cometh you next meal .
The wealthy pauper was preoccupied with sustaining himself in the future. He anticipated providing all he needed to sustain (eating and drinking) and enjoy (be merry) life from out of his own storehouses. That God provides all things we need for life never entered his mind.
We will return to our Creator
Finally, this wealthy pauper ignored the biblical wisdom of remembering that we are but dust.
Remember now your Creator in the days of your youth, before the difficult days come…. Remember your Creator before the silver cord is loosed, or the golden bowl is broken, or the pitcher shattered at the fountain, or the wheel broken at the well. Then the dust will return to the earth as it was, and the spirit will return to God who gave it. (Ecclesiastes 12:1, 6-7).
Remembering the Creator may assuage the dread of knowing we could perish in a moment. This dust (a synecdoche, the part for the whole?) will return to the Creator. We will enter His presence. The wise man, the one rich toward God, lives in anticipation of that moment. The fool, the one impoverished toward God, neglects it until it is too late.
It seems to me that being “rich toward God” includes the following:
- Living in the knowledge that my life could end at any moment.
- Trusting the Father to provide my needs.
- Remembering that moment by moment I live in the presence of the Creator.