“For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil. Some people, eager for money, have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs.” – 1 Timothy 6:10
Recently over the course of three weeks, I watched a movie, Margin Call, three times. I’m fairly sure I’ll watch it again if I have the opportunity. Margin Call, released in 2011, is a movie that fictionalizes a series of events within a Wall Street investment bank associated with the start of the severe economic recession that hit the U.S. and the rest of the world in 2008.
Margin Call didn’t get a lot of press when it was first released nor did it make a lot of money for its backers despite being a well-made film. It stars a number of well-known actors who most people would recognize by face, if not by name.
The movie details the discovery of a serious, fundamental error in the investment firm’s operating business model and how the leaders of this worldwide company choose to deal with the discovery. Seeking to avoid a full-blown internal financial meltdown, these leaders initiate a sequence of decisions and actions intended to minimize the negative financial impact on their company, despite the fact that these same decisions and actions will have a severe and hurtful ripple effect on many of their own employees, their competitors, other organizations, and ultimately the national and international economy. Billions, even trillions, of dollars are in play; and the first priority of this group of people becomes evident: protect the company and protect themselves, all the while knowing that the ruinous impact of this stance would extend far beyond the sphere of their investment banking firm.
Questions of ethical conduct are cast aside so that the definition of “doing the right thing” becomes the same as their priority: self-protection. Even those who are initially resistant or hesitant because of their personal ethics, and those who are about to lose their jobs are co-opted by the lure of being “taken care” of financially if they play along, as well as the threat that their failure to play along would result in retribution.
And so the people in this movie conspire to do and then do some very disreputable things, even when they know those things to be wrong. And they do them because of money.
Being attracted to this movie is partly based on my experience working in a large corporate company, and some of the values and behaviors I witnessed that seemed money-driven. Of course, I never witnessed anything remotely close to the actions of what Margin Call portrayed, but I easily recognized how “golden handcuffs” (using compensation provisions to make it more difficult for people to leave voluntarily) helped to keep key talent tied to the organization.
Paul, in his instruction to Timothy, talked specifically about the attitude and conduct of those who minister. He was promoting simplicity of life and contentment within that lifestyle, saying that seeking after riches was a snare that led to other difficulties and evils. I do think there is an application here for everyone, not just those in ministerial vocations. The same principle applies (the dangers of seeking or hungering after money). Neither Jesus nor Paul passed judgment against having money, their judgment was against being covetous for money.
“The problem with the rich young ruler wasn’t that he had riches but rather the riches had him.” – Gary Nietzhe
When the “rich young ruler” approached Jesus and asked Him about what good thing he could do to earn eternal life (Matthew 19:16-17), Jesus redirected his understanding by telling the young man that all goodness is centered in GOD. Internalizing and remembering this remains a challenge for us, today, because we tend to seek goodness in so many things other than GOD, including money and what money can acquire.
So many are figuratively up to their eyeballs in financial debt as a result of trying to finance “a better life with nicer things,” and now have to constantly figure out ways to manage the financial complexity they’ve created. And many can’t work it out.
- For many years, illegal lotteries (“the numbers”) operated in poorer communities offering a touch of hope that if “I can just hit that number,” I can ____________ (you fill in the blank).
- Legalized gambling through state-run lotteries, sometimes offering multi-million jackpots, has replaced the illegal numbers operations, but they sell the same gambit of getting rich.
- How many people have developed gambling addictions fed by legal and illegal casinos and other betting operations?
- How many stories have we read about children being left in cars for hours while their parent was in a casino?
- How many stories have we heard about corrupt medical practitioners overbilling Medicare or overcharging patients?
- What about people who claim an injury in order to collect workers’ compensation and then are found working another job, collecting money from both?
- Identity theft and robberies of all kinds are driven by one thing: a hunger for money, despite the immorality of taking, sometimes forcibly, from others.
- And how many politicians are dependent upon big-money lobbyists to get elected and stay elected?
- I’m sure I’m not the first person who questions whether Abraham Lincoln’s concept of “government of the people, by the people and for the people” has become government of, by and for those with the deepest pockets.
- How many “evils” can be counted just from reading what’s above…and there are so many others.
Jesus said that it is impossible to serve both GOD and mammon, meaning the desire for possessions and material gain (Matthew 6:24 and Luke 16:13). He went on to say that only one of them will get our sincere devotion, and the other will be set aside. This is why Paul was cautioning Timothy; there is no middle-ground position. If GOD is the center of what is truly good, why do some people make money their good and their god? This leads me to what I think is a logical question: “What good will it be for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul?” (Matt. 16:26; Mark 8:36).
The actors in Margin Call were following a script that required them to be stereotypical worldly, self-centered, self-seeking, money-driven types who were willing to sell their souls because “the business always comes first.” But we don’t have to look far to see a reality just as real and pernicious, one that purports to offer forms of “good” that are not centered in GOD. We need to be watchful about the scripts we select for our lives.
Father, help us to see with clear eyes and hear with open ears. Help us to grasp after only that which profits our souls. Amen.
© Byron L. Hannon. All rights reserved for text content.