In Search of Better Questions

There is more than one way to live faithfully with money


I’m sure that one of the reasons I initially fell in love with math was because there was just one right answer. However, as I waded deeper into the world of mathematics in college, I quickly found out that things weren’t quite so simple. There were multiple ways to arrive at the same answer (no way inherently better than another) and in some areas of mathematics there could even be multiple right answers to the same problem depending on what you wanted to achieve.

I came into the world of personal finance with a similar lens. I was eager to learn the single right way to do things so I could follow the letter of the law and have a healthy financial life. I was eager to find the right way for a Christian to handle money. While I was earnest in my pursuit, I can honestly say that I’m no closer to finding it. What I have learned is that the questions often matter more than the answers.

Here are some of the questions that have guided my decisions around money as a person of faith:

What would God have me do with God’s money?

This is the first and most important question about faith and finances. I think anyone who can give you a simple answer to it isn’t thinking hard enough about it. While there may be beautiful and succinct theological responses, the way this is lived out in practice is often more difficult to discern in everyday life. 

After my first conversation about stewardship with Rev. Jerry Hoffman this was the question that followed me home. If the money I have is God’s and not really mine, how does that shift the way I use it? My first knee-jerk response was to give more of it away. God would have me live frugally, keep as little for myself as possible so others could have more of it. While I don’t think there’s anything wrong with this initial response, I would say that my response twelve years later is a bit more nuanced. Instead of seeing giving as the best way to use my money through a lens of faith, I try to find ways to use my money that reflects God’s love in every area of my financial life: saving, spending, giving, and earning money. 

Today, when I hear this question, I think less about giving and more about how I’m spending my money. Is the money that I’m spending everyday going to support makers who are being equitably paid? Is it being used to support others in my local community? How are my purchases impacting the health of our planet? As you can see, it leaves me with more questions than answers. However, I’ve watched as these questions have helped to transform some of my behaviors and caused me to be more thoughtful in my day-to-day spending. Do I still purchase too much on Amazon? Absolutely! And yet, I’ve seen how moving to a small town that’s chock full of local businesses in an area that’s more climate conscious has helped me to think more critically about my purchases as a steward of God’s creation and my own community.

Where’s the line between hoarding and saving: How much do I keep for myself and how much do I give away?

As you could hear in the last question, this is a question I’ve been living with since day one. It’s also a question where biblical stories can be more of a help than a hindrance since they aren’t equipped to give us a practical answer that works in our current economic system. Too often we take biblical narratives about saving (like the parable of the rich fool building bigger barns in Luke 12) and try to copy and paste them into our American, capitalist context without doing any translation work. We don’t know how to reconcile the often understood message of the parable “God hates saving” with the fact that we live in an individualistic society where each person is responsible to care for their own needs and can’t necessarily rely on help from others.

One of the ways that I’ve been trying to live faithfully with this question is to continually ask myself: 

  • What am I saving for? 
  • What threshold am I trying to reach? 

For instance, my husband and I just recently reached our emergency savings goal of four months of expenses. We believe this amount will give us a well to draw from when the unexpected comes our way. It will also relieve a financial burden for our family and friends who would be supporting us without our emergency well. It took us nearly a decade to reach this goal. Chipping away at it little by little allowed us to continue to be generous to others. Similarly, now that we’ve reached it, we have a unique opportunity to decide where that monthly contribution will go now.

How does a person of faith acquire money and assets and what do you do when they were acquired in the wrong way?

Since 2020, this has become one of the main faith and finance questions on my mind as I’ve reflected on the wealth I’ve inherited from family members, and contemplate purchasing a home later this year. I don’t know much about the history of my family of origin and how they earned their money, however I do know that inherited wealth is a profound financial privilege. 

  • How does a person of faith acknowledge and live with this privilege? 
  • How might I use this privilege for the good of my neighbor?

I don’t know how to reconcile the fact that I’m currently living on stolen land and will likely be buying a home later this year that is also on stolen land. While I can continue to acknowledge the land, I know that’s not enough. 

  • How can I be a person who contributes toward repair? 
  • What does this mean for me practically in terms of home ownership, where I live, and how my assets are distributed after I pass away?

I hope this series on faith and finances pushes you to ask better questions, not just find better answers. I don’t think there’s only one portrait of a faithful financial manager we should all strive to live up to. I wonder, if by dwelling with the questions, God’s Spirit will guide us toward new ways to live out our faith and use our money everyday.

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