I finished "Radical" by David Platt a number of weeks ago, having received a free copy from a conference I attended (apparently it is a pretty popular book - I am a bit out of the loop...I kind of like it that way!). At a round table discussion the author was asked about "chapter 6," his chapter about money, and looking back would he have written it differently. I have to admit that I was expecting something...well...radical. I was surprised when I read it because it did not seem all that Radical to me. I appreciated much of what he had to say. (This, in fact, was my take on the book as a whole, I appreciated much of what he shared and found myself wondering why we might consider this so radical.)
More recently I have been reading the autobiography of George Mueller, who likewise has much to say about finances.
So the question...the one that I have been wresting with. What role should savings, retirement planning, RRSP's and the like play in the life of a disciple of Christ? This is a honest question and one with which I wrestle. I look at it from both sides and see reasonable arguments both for and against and find that I am conflicted.
In "Radical," after a chapter that talks in depth about Western culture, the church, the physical and spiritual needs around the world, and finances Platt asks,
How does all of this affect the way we approach investments, retirement accounts, or life insurance? How much is wise to save for potential future need when brothers and sisters around me (as well as people who haven't heard the gospel) are threatened by dire present need?
And so there is the question that I have been wrestling with. How does it affect it? How should we see them? Then as I was reading Mueller. He shared some thoughts (and if I may say so, thoughts that are even more "radical" than those of Platt) and again had me asking these questions? Mueller encourages the reader to store up treasures in heaven where moth and rust do not destroy, adding:
Often the careful amassing of earthly possessions ends in losing them to a moment of fire, robbery, or a change in the world markets. Furthermore, in a little while, we must all leave this earth, or the Lord Jesus will return. What use will earthly possessions be then?
How ironic that there is no real insurance for our insurance. Where Mueller really has me thinking however, is when he comes at it from a slightly different angle, one of faith and trust. In recounting a story of one who donated to his ministry Mueller states:
...he now sees that to devote this money to the work of God glorifies the name of Jesus more than to keep it in the savings bank for a time of sickness or old age. If such a time comes, the same Lord who has cared for him in health and strength will also care for him then.
What do our savings or retirement accounts say about our trust in God to make good on His promises? Are we making a comment about how we trust God's word about not needing to worry about what we might eat, drink and wear, but to seek first the kingdom and His righteousness and all these things will be added to us? (Matthew 6:31-33) What do we make of Jesus words not to "worry about tomorrow; for tomorrow will care for itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own." Are we neglecting all that is around us today as we worry about tomorrow?
Although so far I have shared thoughts that seem to lean towards seeing retirement savings as unnecessary, I have not come to that conclusion. I still wrestle. Although there are a number of bible verses and thoughts that could be used to support an alternative conclusion, the one that I find myself thinking about is the story of Joseph in Egypt.
Having interpreted Pharaoh's dream to mean seven years of plenty, followed by seven years of famine, Joseph directs them to reserve a fifth of the produce of the land during the good years to be stored as reserve for the years of famine. The question then, is whether it is prudent and acceptable to God to use such an approach in our own personal finances. Knowing that life expectancies have increased and that many of us may live past our years of employment, is it wise to reserve some now to be used in our years of expected shortage? But then I ask questions such as, are these two scenarios really parallel? Was not the key point in the Joseph story to bring God glory in the end, and if yes, what would bring God greater glory in my life. Would RRSP's show God's provision and thus lead to praise, or would serving needs here and now, and trusting God for "our daily bread" each day in the future be more honouring? Again, I turn to the Mueller quote above that shows one mans conclusion. I still don't have a clear answer.
So there it is, my conflict. I truly don't have the answer, but the question keeps coming back to haunt me. I think especially as I look at my kids, think about their future, post secondary schooling, debt etc. the question becomes more pressing. It is one thing to consider messing with my own future, it is another matter all together to consider my kids.