A Monopoly champion sits in your office. The Michael Phelps of the game board. The Pelé of the Boardwalk. He spends all day every day slam-dunking the competition, collecting houses, Park Places, and make-believe money the way Solomon collected wives. He never goes to jail, always passes Go, and has permanent addresses on Illinois and Kentucky avenues. If the Fortune 500 ranked Monopoly billionaires, this guy would out-Buffett Warren Buffett. No one has more money than he.
And he wants you to help him invest it. You are, after all, a financial planner. You speak the language of stocks and annuities, have ample experience with IRAs, mutual funds, and securities. But all your experience didn’t prepare you for this request. Yet here he sits in your office, encircled by bags of pink cash and little plastic buildings. Invest Monopoly earnings?
“I have 314 Park Places, 244 Boardwalks, and enough Reading Railroads to circle the globe like thread on a spool.”
Is this guy for real? You do your best to be polite. “Seems you’ve amassed quite a Monopoly fortune.”
He crosses his arms and smiles. “Indeed I have. And I’m ready for you to put it to work. It’s time for me to sit back and take it easy. Let someone else monopolize Monopoly for a while.”
You take another look at his stacks of funny money and toy real estate and abandon all tact. “Sir, you’re crazy. Your currency has no value. Your cash has no clout. Outside of your game, it’s worthless. I’m sorry to tell you this, but you’ve made a foolish mistake. In fact, you are a fool.”
Strong language. But if you choose to use it, you are in the company of God.
And [ Jesus] told them this parable: “The ground of a certain rich man produced a good crop. He thought to himself, ‘What shall I do? I have no place to store my crops.’
“Then he said, ‘This is what I’ll do. I will tear down my barns and build bigger ones, and there I will store all my grain and my goods. And I’ll say to myself, “You have plenty of good things laid up for many years. Take life easy; eat, drink and be merry. ’
“But God said to him, ‘You fool! This very night your life will be demanded from you. Then who will get what you have prepared for yourself?’
“This is how it will be with anyone who stores up things for himself but is not rich toward God.” (Luke 12:16–21 NIV)
He seemed to be a decent fellow, this wealthy farmer. Sharp enough to turn a profit, savvy enough to enjoy a windfall. For all we know he made his fortune honestly. No mention is made of exploitation or embezzlement. He put his God-given talent to making talents and succeeded. Flush with success, he resolved to learn a lesson from the fable of the ant and the grasshopper.
The grasshopper, you’ll remember, wondered why the ant worked so hard in the summer day. “Why not come and chat with me instead of toiling in that way?” The ant explained his labor: “I’m helping to lay up food for the winter and recommend you do the same.” But the grasshopper preferred to flitter than work. So while the ant prepared, the grasshopper played. And when winter brought its harsh winds and barren fields, the ant nibbled on corn while the grasshopper stood on the street corner holding a cardboard sign: “Any work will do. I’ll hop right to it.”
The tycoon in Jesus’ story wasn’t about to play the role of the grasshopper. No food lines or soup kitchens for him. And no food lines or soup kitchens for us either. We empathize with the fecund farmer. Truth be told, we want to learn from his success. Has he written a book (Bigger Barns for Retirement)? Does he conduct seminars (“Recession-Proof Your Barn in Twelve Easy Steps”)? Doesn’t the barn stuffer model responsible planning? And yet Jesus crowns him with the pointy hat of the dunce. Where did the guy mess up? Jesus answers by populating three paragraphs with a swarm of personal pronouns. Reread the heart of the parable, noting the heart of the investor:
And he thought to himself, saying, “What shall I do since I have no room to store my crops?” So he said, “I will do this: I will pull down my barns and build greater ones, and there I will store all my crops and all my goods. And I will say to my soul, ‘Soul, you have many goods laid up for many years; take your ease, eat, drink, and be merry.’ ” (vv. 18–19)
This rich man indwelled a one-room house of mirrors. He looked north, south, east, and west and saw the same individual—himself. I. I. My. I. I. My. I. My. My. I. My. No they. No thee. Just me. Even when he said you, he spoke to himself. “You have many goods. Take your ease.”
And so he did. He successfully hoarded enough stuff so he could wine, dine, and recline. He moved to Scottsdale, bought a five-bedroom split-level on the third fairway of the country club. He unpacked the moving vans, set up his bank accounts, pulled on his swimming trunks, and dove into the backyard pool. Too bad he forgot to fill it with water. He popped his skull on the concrete and woke up in the presence of God, who was anything but impressed with his portfolio. “Fool! This night your soul will be required of you; then whose will those things be which you have provided?” (v. 20).
The rich fool went to the wrong person (“He thought to himself ”) and asked the wrong question (“What shall I do?”). His error was not that he planned but rather that his plans didn’t include God. Jesus criticized not the man’s affluence but his arrogance, not the presence of personal goals but the absence of God in those goals. What if he’d taken his money to the right person (God) with the right question (“What do you want me to do?”)?
Accumulation of wealth is a popular defense against fear. Since we fear losing our jobs, health care, or retirement benefits, we amass possessions, thinking the more we have, the safer we are. The same insecurity motivated Babel’s tower builders. The nations that spread out after Noah’s flood decided to circle their wagons. “Come, let us build ourselves a city, and a tower whose top is in the heavens; let us make a name for ourselves, lest we be scattered abroad over the face of the whole earth” (Gen. 11:4).
Do you detect the fear in those words? The people feared being scattered and separated. Yet rather than turn to God, they turned to stuff. They accumulated and stacked. They collected and built. News of their efforts would reach the heavens and keep their enemies at a distance. The city motto of Babel was this: “The more you hoard, the safer you are.” So they hoarded. They heaped stones and mortar and bricks and mutual funds and IRAs and savings accounts. They stockpiled pensions, possessions, and property. Their tower of stuff grew so tall they got neck aches looking at it.
“We are safe!” they announced at the ribbon-cutting ceremony.
“No you aren’t,” God corrected. And the Babel-builders began to babble. The city of one language became the glossolalia of the United Nations minus the interpreters. Doesn’t God invoke identical correction today? We engineer stock and investment levies, take cover behind the hedge of hedge funds. We trust annuities and pensions to the point that balance statements determine our mood levels. But then come the Katrina-level recessions and downturns, and the confusion begins all over again.
During the economic collapse of October 2008, a Stamford, Connecticut, man threatened to blow up a bank. When he lost $500,000 of his $2,000,000 portfolio, he planned to bring a gun into the facility and take the lives of innocent people if necessary.1 As if a shooting spree would do anything to restore his loss. Fear has never been famous for its logic.
If there were no God, stuff-trusting would be the only appropriate response to an uncertain future. But there is a God. And this God does not want his children to trust money. He responded to the folly of the rich man with a flurry of “Do not worry” appeals. “Do not worry about your life. . . . Do not seek what you should eat or what you should drink, nor have an anxious mind” (vv. 22, 29).
Max Lucado, Fearless (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2012).