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Rethinking the pursuit of wealth

From the April 21, 2014 issue of the Christian Science Sentinel

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Having spent my entire career in money management, I was interested in a poll conducted by Prudential Financial, which found that a majority of Americans (58 percent) had “lost faith in the market.” Despite the fact that this casts aspersions on my profession, I couldn’t help but understand, given the almost unprecedented volatility of financial markets over the past few years.

Most people know the reasons: insider trading, Ponzi schemes, collusion, market manipulation. Sadly, the list gets long. And each perpetrator appears to have the same motive—the pursuit of wealth.

I recently came across a thank-you note Mary Baker Eddy wrote to a Christian Science branch church in Colorado in which, as I see it, she turned this notion of pursuing wealth upside down—or maybe I should say right side up—and introduced the idea that substance can pursue us.

The branch church members had been successfully growing their own building fund when they heard that The Mother Church in Boston needed funds to complete its edifice, and the Colorado members amazingly contributed their entire building fund.

Real substance is generated by our concept of God.

The letter from Mrs. Eddy to them reads, in part: “Beloved Brethren:—It is conceded that our shadows follow us in the sunlight wherever we go; but I ask for more, even this: That this dear church shall be pursued by her substance, the immortal fruition of her unselfed love, and that her charity, which ‘seeketh not her own’ but another’s good, shall reap richly the reward of goodness” (The First Church of Christ, Scientist, and Miscellany, p. 19).

How refreshing to think that the concrete result of unselfed love is substance; in fact, a substance that pursues us. The fear and frustration in financial headlines today point to a clear need for a new view of substance. Of course, the problem of finding and maintaining true substance is an age-old battle. But in the Bible, Christ Jesus gave us some simple guidance in his parable of the buried talent (see Matthew 25:14–30).

Illuminating the kingdom of heaven, Jesus told the story of a master who, before leaving on a long journey, entrusted his wealth to three of his servants—each according to his ability. When he returned, he found that the servants had invested the funds wisely, except the one to whom he had given just one talent. He had buried it out of fear of losing it and of the punishment he might receive.

To some people, that parable is about not wanting to take risks with someone else’s money. To others, it’s about a person who started with a fear of failure. Yet, to others, it says that our actions testify to our concept of God. We are indeed “pursued” by our own unique concept of substance.

The servant who had buried his talent seems to have felt that his period of stewardship of his master’s funds was an unwelcome burden; while the other two appear to have viewed it as a privilege or a welcome opportunity to serve a higher purpose. This is true stewardship—seeing our role as fiduciary or steward as a privileged time in which to make the most of a God-given and, therefore, God-directed, opportunity.

There is a direct link between our concept of God and the substance that “pursues” us. We have divine assurance that our concrete expressions of divine Love give us the inspiration needed to successfully fulfill our God-given responsibilities. And this generates the substance that “pursues” us.

What’s more, our ability to fulfill our divine duties is independent of the size of our bank account. You can have a large bank account and express a miser’s love, or a small bank account and express a king’s love. So in the end, a bank balance is simply numbers on a ledger. Real substance is generated by our concept of God. And because it is given by God, it would be wrong to limit that substance.

Mary Baker Eddy assures us, “As God is substance and man is the divine image and likeness, man should wish for, and in reality has, only the substance of good, the substance of Spirit, not matter” (Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures, p. 301).

Just as the successful stewards in the parable of the talents found, a deeper spiritual concept of who controls our well-being provides the guidance we need to make the most of what we have been given. And as we grow in our understanding of God, we can with joyful expectancy watch for the substance that pursues us.

Paul Collins lives in Wellesley, Massachusetts.

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