Sunday, March 29, 2009

When Is Cash King?

It was another great lesson in the Gospel Principles class I attended.  I jokingly refer to the class as Mormonism for Dummies because it is meant to be a very basic treatment of basic gospel beliefs.  But the core class attendees have been going to the class for more than a year now and there are no investigators or recent converts in the class.  In fact, most people in the class are lifelong members.  We seem to know each other pretty well by now and we each have sort of carved out our turf when it comes to discussing the gospel.  It is an uncommonly open and inquisitive class and I have enjoyed it as much as any class I have ever attended in Church.

Today the lesson was about prophets.  We discussed how Mormons see prophets and what prophets are expected to do.  There were a variety of opinions as to what the role of a prophet is and how a prophet’s humanness (is that a word?) plays into our expectations and their behavior.

We also talked about what it means to prophesy. One member of the class mentioned that she had recently read a talk given by President Hinckley 10 years ago in which he told people to get out of debt.  She said that had those prophetic words been headed, some of today’s economic problems might have been avoided.  The teacher, who is commercial and residential real estate developer, somewhat jokingly responded that if we had paid off debt and not leveraged out 10 years ago, we would not have participated in the economic boom that preceding the downturn.  I think he made a pretty good point. 

I talked to the developer after class about his comment.  I know that he has had a great deal of turmoil as a result of the downturn but he seems to keep his sense of humor in spite of it.  I told him I wasn’t sure that I considered President Hinckley’s debt advice to be prophetic.  I thought it great advice but not really prophesy.  He concurred and we both jokingly agreed that a really helpful bit of prophesy would have been to expand 10 years ago but to go to cash 2 years ago. 

In retrospect, I’m not sure that I think the Lord would have a prophet say specific things that would help us avoid financial problems or conversely aid in getting ahead.  I’m just not sure financial matters help or hinder the Lords ways.


The Faithful Dissident said...

I have a hard time considering most of such advice as "prophetic" as well. I mean, when it comes to something like debt, it's common sense. To most people, it's wise to not spend more than you make.

I think I would put this into the same sort of category as not getting tattoos, etc. It's great advice and most who don't heed the counsel will likely regret it later. And yet maybe they won't. I guess everyone needs to decide what is best for them.

In the grand scheme of things, the Lord's work isn't going to stop going forth if you have a tattoo or credit card debt. I suppose, though, that when it comes to money, the more that members are saddled with debt or, the less they are likely going to contribute with tithing or time and money to missionary work, etc. I suppose, in that way, the Lord's work could be hampered. Not stopped, but hampered.

firebrand said...

If the message to “get out of debt” was indeed prophecy, then what was the point of this prophecy? Was it to prevent pain and hardship? Were peace and happiness and prosperity the lord’s goals for us? And, what exactly is the "lord's work”? Is the lord’s work defined by service? Are we more likely to serve when we are experiencing prosperity? Is the lord’s work defined by spreading truth? Are we more receptive to truth when we are experiencing prosperity?

Some of the most transformative moments in life come during periods when we experience hardship and devastation. This is true on a personal level and on a national level as well. Did the last 8 years serve to prepare our country to be open and able to elect an African American president? Wouldn’t the lord be supportive of such a transformation not only for our country, but for humanity? Living a life of prosperity does not necessarily promote spiritual/moral growth just as overwhelming personal challenges are not an indication of an unhappy god, even when we bring those challenges on ourselves.

Lessons can be learned the easy way or the hard way. You take the advice to stay out of debt and not to obsess over material accumulation, recognizing there are things in life far more important. You listen and learn. If you fail to heed that advice, you may end up losing everything, which will give you yet another opportunity for growth, albeit a more painful one. The “revelation” as I see it is simply one way to learn an important lesson, through seeking truth and wisdom rather than through experiencing painful consequences.

It is not the financial matters that “help or hinder the lord’s way” but rather lessons learned and opportunities gleaned from life experiences, whatever they may be. A lesson well learned is wisdom/truth waiting to be shared. A lack of prosperity can provide countless opportunities for service and transformative spiritual experiences.

Seeking truth and wisdom does not need to be limited to the words of a prophet; defining his statement as prophecy is unnecessary. It is the learning that is of greatest import.

Fifthgen said...

As it turns out, we heard excerpts from the same Pres. Hinckley talk (or a similar one) in our priesthood meeting lesson on family and financial preparedness. There was some reference to how “prophetic” Pres. Hinckley’s advice now appears (10-11 years later), though the overall emphasis was that he gave the same kind of practical advice Church leaders had been giving for years. For example, Pres. Hinckley explained that he had been taught by his father to build a modest home and pay for it as soon as possible; he said he thought that was good advice for anyone.

I don’t think the point of Pres. Hinckley’s talk was how to “get ahead” financially, or that acquiring wealth is the point of our existence (e.g., “Cash is King”). I think he taught about living modestly and within your means, avoiding greed and materialism, and being prepared for the bad stuff that inevitably will happen. Living in such a way has spiritual and temporal consequences, which are often interrelated. For example, in priesthood meeting we talked about the instability and unhappiness financial difficulties can cause in a marriage and family. We also discussed the fact that one is in a better position to serve others if one’s own needs are met. I think Pres. Hinckley was asking us to consider the ramifications of financial stewardship; he was not telling us how to get a big house, a boat or a fat stock portfolio.

Now, how the rank and file of the Church interprets that advice is another story. I think there are people who want see mystical premonition in everything the prophet says. Statements about future financial or political difficulties will always seem prophetic, depending upon when you take your snapshot in time. I think the real “prophetic message,” though, is to live modestly, be wise about your temporal “stewardship,” and be in a position to serve, whenever possible, rather than needing to be served. That advice is more timeless.

pb said...

Your teacher may have made a fine financial point, but I wouldn't categorize it as having any bearing on spiritual development. President Hinckley's advice, on the other hand, speaks to a whole way of living (i.e., within one's means, "modestly" as Fifthgen has said) that I would characterize as fundamental to spiritual development. Whoever identified the spiritual disease of our time as that "painful, contagious, socially transmitted condition of overload, debt, anxiety and waste resulting from the dogged pursuit of more" was not a prophet, but the words are nevertheless prophetic.

Fifthgen said...

OMGsh! Is Sanford ever going to post again?