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Greed is a four-letter word

by Chuck Hesse (WordAlone board member, Iowa City, Iowa)

December 18, 2008

photo of Chuck HesseYes, I know greed has five letters, but four-letter words have a general bad connotation so it seemed appropriate. For years, I have wanted to write about how greed has been slowly, and now more rapidly, unraveling our American fabric. This is not only seen in government or on corporate levels, but also comes down to the individual.

We shuddered and then became angry about the Enron scandal. Now with the collapse of our economy and the massive bailouts of financial institutions and possibly the auto companies by the federal government and ultimately the taxpayer, we are made aware of how greed has brought about this frightening dilemma. When the price of oil brought about skyrocketing fuel prices we cringed at projected higher costs for winter heating and changed our driving habits to balance our home budgets.

We read about astronomical CEO salaries and golden parachutes continuing in the face of company failures, auto company executives flying to Washington, D.C. in separate private jets; Wall Street insiders cheating as the market goes into a tail spin; home foreclosures multiplying because of greedy lending agencies administering home loans inappropriately; and huge amounts spent on lobbying our senators and representatives for legislation beneficial to selfish interests.

As individuals we expect raises in salary, bonuses, generous benefits from employers, and living beyond our means because it feels good. We live in homes that in other developed countries might be large enough for three or even four families. We are quick to blame others for our "problems" in spite of our full bellies, warm homes and freedoms. Our greed is a giant cloak that shields us from the plight of Third World countries where thousands of people die each day from starvation, exposure or lack of even basic health care.

These are just more examples of how this country's moral fiber is being shredded.

Personal freedoms and rights are jealously guarded, yet vindictive comments are directed at government officials who have attempted to bolster our national security in order to safeguard those same freedoms. Our nation's worst tragedy on 9/11 is soon forgotten by those not directly affected and there are protests that we are too constrained by security measures. This complaint gets added to the complaints about the cost of health care, fuel, housing, food and even protecting the environment even though most of us survive very well with adjustments in our spending. Few of us are willing to admit that we are able to survive without resorting to the greed that drives us to protest security measures so vehemently.

The Word of God is quite explicit and should be our guide as we try to live our lives according to that Word. The idols in our lives such as wealth, the things we think we can't do without and even "works-righteousness" that we "worship" are addressed by the first commandment. We are to have no other gods but only to put our trust in the one true God. The seventh through the 10th commandments state quite clearly that we should control greed. This includes not only what we covet or obtain under false pretences, but also how we close our minds and are hypercritical of government officials who are trying to safeguard our freedoms.

Parables dealing with "talents" and "grain storage" demonstrate how greed can corrupt. Greed is so ubiquitous and prolific that it has become a part of our lives and eludes our self-control. From our waking hours to our worry-infested restless sleep greed tries to control us. We are unwilling or unable to put all in God's hands and put the evil behind us as Christ told the devil to "get thee behind me," when He was tested in Mathew 4:10. We find it too difficult to shed the bulky baggage of our greed in order to enter God's kingdom through the eye of the needle.

Until we as individuals, corporations and as a country put greed behind us and smother it with compassion and generosity, we will continue to slide into moral decay. Christians who put their trust in Jesus should have the resiliency to overcome adversity and not have to rely on the idols arising from greed. Our nation and our very lives depend on putting this evil behind us and trusting in the Lord, live according to His Word and commandments.