The name of a single fictional character captures the image of what most people consider the epitome of greed- Scrooge! Ebenezer Scrooge, the central character of Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol, showcases this sin in exquisite detail and depth. Scrooge exhibits all the outward signs of greed we commonly think of: gaining at the expense of others, hoarding, cheating, and being miserly. A deeper look at his character shows us how such sinfulness comes to be. In a very real sense, his sin is the fruit of certain deeply held thoughts, beliefs, and emotions. Long before the sin of greed actually rears its ugly head, its seeds are sown in his life. Unfulfilled longing, despair, and hopelessness have long since become the companions of his heart.
The Poverty Spirit
Greed grows in the soil of an impoverished heart. Greed is fed and nurtured by a poverty spirit. A poverty spirit says, “there isn’t enough” and “there will never be enough”. It is a deeply held belief in limitation. At the deepest levels, it is a belief that God is “not enough”, or that God will not come through in need.
The poverty spirit is not to be confused with the beatitude, “blessed are the poor in spirit”. In fact, they are the opposite of each other. Jesus’ call to be “poor in spirit” is a complete surrender of the heart to the goodness of God. It is a proclamation that “God is always enough.”
A key factor in the formation of Scrooge as a rather nasty, bitter man, is his early life. He longs for the love of his father. Yet, he is sent to boarding school, where he doesn’t quite fit in, and he longs to be reunited to his sister and father. In a particularly cruel twist, his sister comes to visit him, proclaiming that his father has changed. Yet, he never gets to experience that change. The longing for love, approval, and affirmation in the boy’s life go unmet. As time goes by, the unfulfilled longings in the young Ebenezer’s heart begin to metastasize like a cancer. The Scriptures tell us that hope deferred makes the heart grow weary. As Ebenezer grows weary in unfulfilled longing, a dark, new companion joins his inner life.
Despair often begins as a rather subtle thing, but it casts a long, dark shadow across one’s life. Ebenezer’s despair can be summed up in a single word, “Never”. He will never truly be happy. He can never trust people and relationships. He will never have the deepest desires of his heart- to love and be loved, to belong, to experience joy.
So, he does what every person since Adam has done in his despair. He gives up. He stops trying. He loses heart and loses hope that he will have what he really wants. In his despair, poor Ebenezer looks for and finds a substitute, albeit a poor one. He has settled for something temporal, when only the eternal will truly satisfy. He has abandoned hope.
The loss of hope is crushing to Ebenezer. Despite everything, the love a good woman has found him. But, without hope, he cannot dare to trade his growing greed for the unreliability of love. After all, if he surrenders the comfort of his material cravings, he would be forced to rely on another person. His own father had taught him long ago not to rely on people. Try as she might to rekindle the goodness that she sees inside him, hope no longer has a place in him. He will gain more and more material goods, even at the expense of love and personal relationships. Ebenezer believes in the deepest places of his heart that his dreams, wishes, and needs won’t be fulfilled. He believes in limit, not enough and never enough.
Blessed are the Poor in Spirit
The antidote for Ebenezer is two-fold, just as it is for our own greedy hearts. Surrender and generosity. But, this surrender is of a different sort. It is not a surrender to despair, but a surrender to goodness. Ebenezer surrenders his heart to love and goodness. This is the beatitude. It could be said, “Blessed are those who abandon themselves completely to the goodness of God, for they shall inherit all that is His.” A person who is abandoned to the goodness of God worries less, fears less, despairs less.
Generosity becomes the fruit and the practice of one who relies on God. There is no need to hoard, gather up needlessly or to despair. God is the provider of all good gifts, eternal and material. Generosity leaves scant room for the thought, “If I give something away, I may not have enough for myself.” Generosity and wisdom become the guiding principles of stewardship.
In a world that seems to be awash in greed, despair, and hopelessness, the Gospel beatitude is a safe harbor. Reliance on God in everything, in every situation, in every circumstance, is the way of the Kingdom. If God knows the number of hairs on our heads, He certainly knows the deepest desires and needs of every human heart, and longs to fulfill them Himself.