Are You Cool With a Burger and a Shirt?: The Law of Contentment
But godliness with contentment is great gain, for we brought nothing into the world, and we cannot take anything out of the world. But if we have food and clothing, with these we will be content. But those who desire to be rich fall into temptation, into a snare, into many senseless and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evils. It is through this craving that some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pangs. (1 Timothy 6:6-10 ESV)
We are impossibly prosperous in America. I just saw a commercial where you can order a pizza by texting an emoji to a pizza place. (But what kind would they deliver? Where would they send it? My head hurts.) We drive around in air-conditioned pods on rubber that take us to jobs where we make more in one day than many make in a year.
Meanwhile, we groan.
Robert Frank from The Wall Street Journal wrote (extrapolating data from a study by a Princeton economist) that $75,000 is the magic number for financial contentment. Apparently a dollar more doesn't make you happier after $75k but we need to get to that hill top.
I don't know about all that, but I'm sure that having more money does make people slightly happier. Not more joyful, but happier. Joy is permanent and deep while happiness is a birthday party. Once you have to clean up the plates and cake crumbs the party is over - that's happiness. But I reckon having enough money to throw a birthday party is helpful.
So why do we have lots of stuff but yet we struggle like we're starving? Why do we watch the panel on Shark Tank and think they are any happier than us normal folks?
Paul's first letter to Timothy is helpful here. Paul writes:
...godliness with contentment is great gain, for we brought nothing into the world, and we cannot take anything out of the world. But if we have food and clothing, with these we will be content.
Godliness with contentment is great gain. If you are not starving or dying from the elements (read: you have food and clothes) and you know Jesus, you are on the path to gain. In fact, you are sitting on top of a heap of blessing. Joy in Christ cannot even be compared with happiness in money. And we get to take that joy with us into eternity. Money gets checked at the Pearly Gates.
The law of diminishing returns means that the more you get of something, the less valuable it becomes to you. Say you ate one white chocolate macadamia cookie. Pretty awesome, right? Maybe you have two. Still tasty. Say you eat 50 of those suckers. Your blood sugar would spike and you'd end up on the ground looking like a dog having a dream where it's running from something. Well money is subject to the law of diminishing returns. In fact, it's worse than that. I think more money breeds more hunger for money as you seek a higher echelon of rich. It's pretty expensive to play with the rich crowd.
Contentment in God is subject to the law of increasing returns. The more time you spend with God, the more joyful you become and that spurs you on to spending more time with Him and on and on. It's a really beautiful cycle. Now I didn't say you'll be happy and Jesus didn't either. Remember the difference between happiness and joy? We are talking joy here. Joy rooted in hope. Hope rooted in the Eternal Savior of the World. You feel me?
The culture in America prescribes money as the antidote to unhappiness. I think the culture has the diagnosis wrong altogether. We aren't just in need of more of something so we can smile on Mondays, we need a savior for our soul. The only cure to that diagnosis is Jesus. Pouring money in that hole is a sad waste of effort and life.
Money isn't bad. It will buy you a burger and a shirt. But money will fail you and leave you empty if you chase it like you ought to chase The Lord. The law of increasing returns in God is the pathway to real flourishing.