Will the Rich Enter Heaven?
Originally from the Spring 2017 edition of the MIT et Spiritus
I can only think of one person whose death I’m responsible for. His name was Steve, and years ago he cut his hand working in a kitchen and now he can’t open it enough to wear gloves. He was a master of really dark jokes that he’d deliver with a perfect deadpan. Last time I saw him, he was sleeping outside because hospitals don’t like it when you can’t pay and homeless shelters don’t like it when you have pneumonia. I wondered if he could live in my dorm room, or if I could pay for a cheap apartment, but that seemed unrealistic so I quickly shelved the thought. It might have given him time to recover. It probably would have saved his life. Instead, he passed away on Valentine’s Day.
You can’t blame yourself for that.
It wouldn’t have been safe to take him in.
You have to watch out for yourself first.
You can’t bring people like that home with you.
And so he’s dead. He was a person. He contained a spark of the divine, loved and was loved by others, had hobbies and passions and insecurities and inside jokes. And now he’s gone, in part because I cared more about what was “realistic” than about his life. But before you judge me, ask yourself if you would’ve done the same. And before you let me off the hook, ask yourself if God would.
You see, Jesus tells a similar story in Luke 16, about a beggar named Lazarus and an unnamed rich guy. We don’t get very much info about either character: the rich man has five brothers and eats well and dresses nicely. Lazarus lives outside his gates and gets licked by mangy dogs. The rich man doesn’t do anything to Lazarus. It’s not his fault Lazarus is homeless. He doesn’t harm Lazarus. It’s not clear that they’ve ever exchanged words. And yet, says Jesus, the rich man goes straight to hell. Forever.
There’s a lot to reflect on here. Nothing the rich man does seems particularly bad to me. He could’ve done more to help, but it’s not like he did anything wrong. It’s not like he went out and killed anybody, or stole anything. It’s not like he was dealing with drugs or porn or hatred. Just comfort. This tells me that my moral compass is, at least on this issue, horribly miscalibrated. I’m so addicted to gratifying the flesh through material riches that I’ve become desensitized to and even okay with the sin of affluence.
It goes without saying that the level of affluence in America is completely obscene on a historical scale. Jesus commanded a rich young ruler to sell everything he had to give to the poor before he could even follow him, but what did the rich young ruler have? Spices? Clothes? Jewels? Since I’d take my laptop and phone over all his wealth any day, what does that say about me? If he had too much to follow God properly, what do I have? Why did it take so long to even think to ask the question? And I see myself as a college student not making a ton, rather than as a very rich man swimming in luxury! How strange (and scary) it would be to see the world through God’s eyes! The same God who sees half the world make two dollars a day watches me complain that Subway ran out of pickles to put on my footlong sandwich.
I worry that life in America has blinded our churches to what the bible actually says about money. Growing up in a fairly typical evangelical church, I’ve heard all the standard defenses of materialism: it’s not a sin to be rich. God wants us to enjoy life on earth. Jesus partied too. What I’ve heard taught about using money has mostly been Dave Ramsey-style “how to manage your money” talks. We’ve become comfortable with material comforts, ignoring Jesus’ surprisingly intense warnings against them. We’re okay with greed and gluttony and ambition, having replaced them with the softer-sounding “success” and “comfort”. When we do reach out into altruism, we often barge into places with all the humility and subtlety of Creflo Dollar’s private jet:
Let’s Save Africa.
Bringing God to Mexico.
We’re gonna spend $5,000 to build an outhouse or something.
At times, the charitable endeavors we fund do more harm than good and this tinges our virtues with sin.
As a Christian, I believe our goal should be to figure out what God wants us to do with our finances. (And then, of course, to do that.) As an evangelical, I believe that God’s point of view is best determined through correct biblical interpretation. The summary below, due to space, is necessarily incomplete. For a fuller (and better-exegeted) overview, see Neither Poverty nor Riches by Craig L. Blomberg or Jesus and Money by Ben Witherington III.
Let’s take Genesis 1 as our starting point: God is the source of all things, including our possessions and our wealth, and (at least initially) the things God creates are good. This should caution us against a blind asceticism: God’s plan for humanity, uncorrupted by sin, includes food and at least some sort of material comfort. Throughout Genesis, and later under the Mosaic covenant, God occasionally blesses particularly faithful people with wealth and prosperity. Since most Christians believe that the Mosaic covenant is not directly applicable following Jesus’ resurrection, we should emphatically denounce any of the sort of “prosperity gospel” type preaching that pervades pop Christianity and, it seems, our presidential inauguration. At the same time, the covenant was given by the same God we still worship, which implies that God is not necessarily opposed to wealth in and of itself.
Nevertheless, the Old Testament provides two significant counterpoints to materialism. First, and most important, is God’s concern for the poor. This is two-pronged: certainly God’s people must not make their wealth through sinful means: the Levitical laws condemn things like lending money with interest and withholding wages from workers, while the prophets repeatedly use their role as social commentators to express outrage at profits made on the backs of the poor. Amos in particular coldly describes the sort of apathetic comfort-seeking at the expense of others we’re familiar with today by referring to his listeners as
“Cows of Bashan
You women who oppress the poor
and crush the needy
and say to your husbands,
‘Bring us some drinks!’”
(While I am neither a woman nor married, I think the damning image of a person concerned with trivial material pursuits over the people hurt by one’s lifestyle certainly applies to me more than I’d like to admit.)
More important, however, is the duty those who are rich have to their poor brothers and sisters. This duty goes quite far: the Levitical laws give any crops missed on the first harvest to the poor and demands the forgiveness of all debts every forty-nine years. The prophets, as usual, treat with scorn the wealthy who fail to help their less well-off countrymen. In a particularly famous passage, Isaiah denounces the idea that one can fulfill one’s ritual duty in fasting solely with ash and sackcloth and a lack of food. Rather, he asks:
“Is [a fast] not to divide your bread with the hungry
And bring the homeless poor into the house;
When you see the naked, to cover him;
And not to hide yourself from your own flesh?”
The other warning the Old Testament writers raise is that too much comfort can stop a person from relying on God. Wealth brings with it the temptation of self-reliance, and lets us live (at least for a bit) with the illusion that we are our own source of life and comfort. This hides from us God’s role in sustaining the universe and us, and can lead us to forget that we live in constant need of his mercies and grace (if not for food, at the very least for forgiveness and the ever-present quest for holiness). Along these lines, a particularly relevant proverb attributed to somebody named Agur son of Jakeh asks God to:
“Remove far from me falsehood and lying;
give me neither poverty nor riches;
feed me with the food that is needful for me,
lest I be full and deny you
and say, “Who is the Lord?”
or lest I be poor and steal
and profane the name of my God.”
Here the prophets are rather bitterly sarcastic, with numerous humorous and dark portraits of affluent and comfortable people seeing themselves as much more important than they really are. Isaiah mocks the Babylonian empire as
“[a] lover of pleasure,
lounging in your security
and saying to yourself,
‘I am, and there is none besides me.”
The sin of pleasure-seeking is here intertwined with the sin of pride, as the sheer wealth and comfort of the Babylonian lifestyle leads its citizens to think only of themselves, both ignoring the people hurt by Babylonian’s imperialism and failing to recognize their own shortcomings and relative unimportance in the grand scheme of things. God’s resulting warning should bring as much terror to our own ears as to those in Babylon:
Disaster will come upon you,
and you will not know how to conjure it away.
A calamity will fall upon you
that you cannot ward off with a ransom;
a catastrophe you cannot foresee
will suddenly come upon you.
The message here is clear: the rich and powerful build up ways to ward off the unknown and the dangerous. Babylon had magic, money, and astrology (at least two of which we no longer consider valuable), but we too have developed rituals to keep our fears out. We use technology to avoid the elements and to produce huge amounts of food. We have medicine to ward off disease and the internet to ward off boredom. Some of us move to wealthier neighborhoods to stay away from crime. And indeed, we do these things because they work, at least against the everyday, physical dangers we can see. But against the great supernatural forces (whether we find ourselves against God or demons), none of the defenses and postures we use to feel secure will be of any use. In the grand, eternal scheme of things, none of them will matter. God alone provides security, and we must be cautious that our temporary ability to provide for ourselves physically does not blind us to our constant need for God in all other ways.
As usual, Jesus’ own words on the matter are faithful to Old Testament principles but come with twists for a new era. Like much of Jesus’ teaching, his financial advice depends on God’s intervention in and imminent return to earth, which fundamentally reshape the ways we think of our relationships with each other and with the world. Two themes in particular stand out:
The first is sometimes called “eschatological reversal”, and refers to Jesus’ mysterious teachings about roles in the kingdom of God. We’re told numerous times throughout the gospels that “the last shall be first and the first shall be last”, in all sorts of measures of social standings. This is one of those phrases that I’ve heard so many times in church that I often fail to recognize how incredibly subversive it is. The last shall be first. The infant in Togo who died of malaria before speaking her first words. The man rotting in prison somewhere over some trumped-up sentence who’s forgotten how to speak and so only mutters to himself. The monks and nuns who line nearly-forgotten monasteries around the world, whose constant prayers we take for granted. The elderly woman in hospice care living her last few days alone because nobody cared enough to visit her. The migrant worker being taken advantage of by a cruel boss with the threat of ICE agents on his side. The child who was aborted before she could live and the mother who died in childbirth because she couldn’t get an abortion. These, says Jesus, who the world has forgotten or ignored or trampled or looked down on or failed to consider human: these are the sorts of people who are more important than me. In case we couldn’t infer what that means financially, Jesus spells it out for us:
Blessed are you who are poor,
for yours is the kingdom of God.
Blessed are you who hunger now,
for you will be satisfied.
But woe to you who are rich,
for you have already received your comfort.
Woe to you who are well fed now,
for you will go hungry.
Jesus builds on this later, saying that “it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God.” While Jesus notes that "with God all things are possible,” the blunt truth remains: it is difficult for the well-off to get to heaven, and if we do make it there, it will be as humble guests rather than the main deal.
The second is what Jesus refers to as “treasure in heaven.” The bible is very clear that the world we see is not all there is. Beyond all the physics and jobs and entertainment and technology there’s an invisible and omnipresent God. There are angels and demons and other incredibly powerful and rather scary supernatural beings. There’s heaven and hell and apocalypses and we’re small and mortal and it’s far more than we can possibly take in. Even the biblical writers seem at a loss to describe the supernatural realm:
The appearance of the living creatures was like burning coals of fire or like torches. Fire moved back and forth among the creatures; it was bright, and lightning flashed out of it. The creatures sped back and forth like flashes of lightning. [...] When the creatures moved, I heard the sound of their wings, like the roar of rushing waters, like the voice of the Almighty, like the tumult of an army. When they stood still, they lowered their wings.
At the sound of their voices the doorposts and thresholds shook and the temple was filled with smoke. “Woe to me!” I cried. “I am ruined! For I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips, and my eyes have seen the King, the Lord Almighty.” 
The supernatural world is far bigger than us, and God is much, much more important than us. This is perhaps the most basic lesson of Christianity, and yet it’s one I find myself having to relearn over and over. A simple corollary is that it’s worthwhile to give up worldly things in exchange for heavenly benefits, which in turn serves as a basis for the incredibly rich Christian theology of sacrifice. The life of a follower of Jesus, we’re told, is to be marked with sacrifice: partly via persecution (much more of a problem in first century Rome than twenty-first century America), but also through personal sacrifice for the sake of others. When Zacchaeus the tax-collector repents, he offers half his possessions to his poorer neighbors, while Jesus demands the rich young ruler sell everything he has. These aren’t necessarily meant to be binding for us, and I think it’s counterproductive to try to set specific dollar amounts we should tithe or give away, but if we truly believe God is more valuable than any material thing, we need to be willing to put our money where our mouth is.
In addition to eschatological teaching, three parables of Jesus in particular stand out. The first, the story of Lazarus, we’ve already discussed. Second is the parable of the shrewd manager, a confusing story which Craig Blomberg calls “an exegetical [interpretive] hornet’s nest.” Without going into too much detail, the story depicts a dishonest man in charge of his master’s finances, who is told he will be fired and so essentially defrauds his master by reducing how much the master’s debtors owe, thereby making friends who will help him with his unemployment. Jesus’ interpretation of the parable is equally confusing, but climaxes with a command to “use worldly wealth to gain friends for yourselves, so that when it is gone, you will be welcomed into eternal dwellings.” At least this much of the message is clear: we are to use our worldly possessions, including our money, for the purpose of furthering God’s kingdom on earth. This includes giving to the poor (who will, after all, be above us in heaven), but also giving to other Christian ministry opportunities.
Last, and potentially most counterintuitive, is the parable of the rich fool. The “rich fool” is what we might otherwise call a wise man: the man has a particularly bountiful harvest, but has nowhere to store his crops. Showing sound financial sense, he builds a bigger barn to store the crops, so he can “ have plenty of grain laid up for many years, take life easy; eat, drink and be merry.” Jesus could’ve stopped here and had a nice parable of good planning and smart decisions about one’s future. But he doesn’t. Instead, God suddenly appears and demands of the rich man: “You fool! This very night your life will be demanded from you. Then who will get what you have prepared for yourself?”
Jesus uses this parable to launch into a discourse on anxiety and self-reliance. The message, we’re informed, is that followers of God should not worry: if God provides for birds and flowers, how much more will he provide for us? If we build up treasure in heaven through good deeds and concern for others, what need do we have for money on earth? The lesson (is it “don’t save money”?) makes me uncomfortable. If I don’t save up enough money, what happens to me? What if I do starve to death? Blomberg argues that in a perfect Christian community there would be no need to worry, because if catastrophe faced one member, the others would step in and help. But what if they don’t? Maybe that’s the point. Maybe the point is that trusting God is scary and carries real risks. Sometimes people get hurt following God. Sometimes people die following God. But if we truly believe in Christ’s message, the harms we might face are by far outweighed by the joys of close relationship with God and the treasures awaiting us in heaven.
There’s one more story I think is relevant to the discussion, and I need to confess that I find it perplexing and a little counterintuitive. All four gospel writers record a woman (sometimes identified with Mary Magdalene) anointing Jesus’ feet with an incredibly expensive perfume. Judas (of all people!) objects, saying that the money should have been given to the poor, but Jesus insists that “she has done a beautiful thing” in anointing him for burial, and notes that the disciples will always be able to help the poor, but will not always have Jesus walking among them. I honestly can’t say for sure what the message is here, but it seems that Jesus is cautioning us against assuming poverty (or related charity work) is the only worthwhile use of resources (as well as being judgmental about how others choose to use what they have!) Here, and echoed in Paul’s writings and acts, is an indication that legitimate religious rituals are also an important use of money—while this doesn’t necessarily make it okay to spend millions of dollars on a fancy church campus, it certainly implies that reasonable church expenses and the occasional splurge for God (Mark tells us that the perfume was worth nearly a year’s wages, hardly a small expense!) are acceptable and even at times actively good practices.
The fundamental point of all this is that everything we have is a gift from God and intended for his glory. We, therefore, ought to use them as best we can to serve God’s purposes, which first and foremost means spending a lot less time and money on ourselves, which requires real and material sacrifice. Deciding what to spend our resources on, however, is nontrivial. In particular, we need to answer questions like
How do we value lives saved vs. experiences with God?
How do we value helping people we might meet vs. people far away?
How do we value relief vs. development work?
None of these have simple, objective answers. The first is probably the most important, and least answerable, of the questions. If our goal is to maximize lives saved per dollar, then the (typically secular) effective altruism movement has performed significant research regarding charities we should donate to, but none of these charities will do much to spread the love of Jesus. On the other hand, if we want to maximize souls saved per dollar, we’d probably be better off supporting full-time missionaries along with our local churches (although I really don’t think “souls saved” is a particularly measurable or useful concept. Something like “amount grown closer to God” would be better, but even less measurable.) My personal solution is to donate some money to effective altruism-type (aka “maximize lifesaving”) charities and other money to Christian development work overseas in approximately a 2:1 ratio, but this is more of a haphazardly-cobbled-together choice than a principled stance. My point here isn’t to tell you how to spend money you’re giving to God, but to note that we ought to prayerfully consider these questions before donating.
There are at least three temptations I find myself facing when I try to follow God in this area. The first is to to limit myself to what seems realistic. I didn’t look for a way to find Steve housing until he got better, because that would be “unrealistic” (meaning, of course, that it would require a sacrifice and I’m too selfish for that.) I couldn’t possibly stop going to movies to donate the money, because God wouldn’t really want me to miss out on Infinity War. Obviously I need to keep my phone and laptop. Of course when I’m older I should own a house. I should save up to send my children to a top college. It would seem, at least empirically, that these things are more important to me than God.
The second temptation is to act as though charity and devoting my time to others is some sort of great virtue, rather than a basic expectation. This leads to all sorts of problems, not least the “savior complex” in which we think of ourselves as great benefactors rescuing the poor from a terrible plight. It’s very natural for us to see people in worse-off situations as somehow less human than us—we condescend to them and assume we know better than them about their own problems as well as pretty much everything else. This is a great sin from which we need to learn to repent and be healed, and there is a very strong risk of pushing our own views of “the good life” onto people who don’t want them or already have them! (I hear this complaint sometimes from my African friends, with well-meaning American missionaries trying to “bring God to Africa”, not recognizing that Africa is nearly 80% Christian, and often interspersing the gospel message with generic American ideals!) Samuel Ikua Gachagua has written about growing up in a Kenyan orphanage, when clearly well-meaning missionaries arrived and had the children sit through presentations on the importance of oral hygiene and how to brush one’s teeth.
As we filed into the dining hall afterwards, we couldn't stop laughing. "Another mzungu [white person] who thinks we don't know how to brush our teeth!" We added the new toothbrushes to our stockpile. We had dozens, of course, from all the other white people who had come through that year apparently concerned primarily about our teeth.
The importance of this cannot be overstated. Missionaries seeking to help people need to work with the people and communities they’re helping to see what people actually need and want. This needs to inform our volunteer work, making sure we see the people we volunteer for as active partners instead of recipients, but it also needs to inform our donations, so that our money goes to places which will raise up our less-well-off brothers and sisters instead of patronizing them. (What this means in practice would fill much more than this paragraph! A good introduction to these sorts of questions is When Helping Hurts by Brian Fikkert and Steve Corbett.) A key step towards developing the right mindset towards this is to heed Jesus’ advice:
Does he thank the servant because he did what was commanded? So you also, when you have done all that you were commanded, say, ‘We are unworthy servants; we have only done what was our duty.
A final temptation (although there are certainly many I’ve missed) is to treat giving money away as an end unto itself. And, like most temptations, there’s some truth to it: I believe that sacrificing comforts and possessions with God in mind is good for one’s soul. But if we’re really giving up our time and money out of love, then the basic principles of love demand that we try to direct our resources in a way that is most helpful to those we’re trying to help. (In particular, blindly choosing charities to donate to is probably not a good plan, and big flashy charities along the lines of the Make-A-Wish Foundation are probably not the best bet under most Christian value systems.) This, of course, immediately runs into a zillion unanswerable questions about what sorts of resources to direct and what sorts of help to value, and your opinions here will almost certainly differ somewhat from mine. So instead, let’s look at two choices of answers that appeal to me and see what happens.
Let’s take “saving lives” to be the ultimate form of doing good for the next few paragraphs. Then, we can take advantage of mountains of research on the subject by charity evaluators like GiveWell, and learn that our best bet is a charity like the Against Malaria Foundation, which saves approximately one life per three thousand dollars donated. If the average person saved has about fifty years to live, then it costs about five bucks to give somebody a month of life. Five dollars. I don’t have the skill to express how horrifying this number is. An entire month of life. Five dollars. If you get nothing else out of this article, I pray that you would reflect for a minute or two on this exchange rate. And repent for all the times we’ve spent five dollars on lesser things.
If you’re like me, it may be hard for you to deal with numbers like this in the abstract. It helps me to think of my nephew Aiden. He’s almost two now. He’s very cute, and certainly knows it. (If you ask him, he shakes his head “no” with a huge smile on his face.) When I ask who his favorite uncle is, he points to me. When I pretend to be pikachu and zap him, he shakes his head at me with a surprisingly intense disapproval. Would I trade two months of his life to buy a cheeseburger from the stud? Fifteen years of his life for a brass rat I haven’t worn since I bought it? Forty years for a book collection that mostly lets me think of myself as the sort of thoughtful, intelligent person who has a large book collection? It doesn’t feel like enough to just answer “no”—it seems awful to even ask the question.
And yet it’s the sort of tradeoff I’m perfectly comfortable making in everyday life. (Throwback to all the prophets’ judgment passages!) The willingness to trade the lives of people I’ve never met for spurious and materialistic pleasures. As I type this, I’m eating some chips and nacho cheese and drinking an energy drink I bought so I’ll be awake for my flight tomorrow morning. I wasn’t particularly hungry when I bought them—just kind of bored and craving nachos. The three of them cost $11.77 at La Verdes. Ten weeks of life. I have a $200 ticket to Hamilton in Chicago tomorrow because of a late-night spur-of-the-moment decision. Three years of life. I’ll be in Chicago for a grad school visit, the culmination of an application process that cost me about $1500. Twenty-five years of life.
But “lives saved per dollar” is not the only metric. Let’s say we value face-to-face interactions, internal personal transformation, and what some theologians have called “God’s preferential option for the poor.” Furthermore, let’s say we are on a shoestring budget and can, even with great sacrifice, only afford to donate $5 or so per week. In this case, a valid option might be to buy lunch for a homeless friend once a week and talk about life. The great thing about this sort of outreach is that we can’t pretend we’re out saving the world or get grandiose visions of how much we’re “helping the poor”. We’re just back to the Christian basics of loving our neighbors and learning (our pride can prevent us from admitting we have to learn this!) to see our homeless brothers and sisters as people.
If you’ve made it this far, thanks for bearing with me. The only remaining thing I’d like to say is that none of us is strong enough to do this alone. The loves of money and comfort are an addiction. The first step, as the cliche goes, is to admit we have a problem. But the road to recovery is long and hard. There is forward motion. There are stumbles. There are times when we’re willing to sell almost everything we own (and perhaps do), and there are times when we panic and order a bunch of pizza or buy a ton of books and clothes. There are times when we’re generous and times when we’re selfish. But the promise of Christ is that the Holy Spirit gives us grace to push us forwards and grace to pick us up when we fall off. And so as we (or at least “I”, but hopefully “we”) look for ways to spend less on ourselves and more on those around us, I pray that God would guide us to deeper love, faithfulness, and relationship with him.
 This shouldn’t be read as a criticism of Dave Ramsey. Teaching people to get out of debt is a very good thing indeed, and it’s unfair to expect his ministry to focus on every single part of financial virtue. My complaint is only when his ministry is the full extent of what we learn about money—we certainly shouldn’t assume that once a person is out of debt, their finances are godly.
 This is a particular risk with short-term mission trips, where we risk spending tons of money to build things people don’t want or could build themselves (in the worst cases, taking jobs away from builders and carpenters who live in the places we travel to!). Many of the benefits of such trips come from making the people who go on them more globally aware and more charitable in the future (indeed, this is how I became interested in the topic!), but we need to be careful not to hurt the people we think we’re helping in the meantime!
 Which here means “as God intended”, making the whole thing a bit circular. Perhaps more to the point, I believe that careful interpretation sensitive to the cultural and genre-specific contexts of each passage provide the best way of ascertaining God’s perspective on a subject.
 The “prosperity gospel” (aka the “health and wealth” or “name-it-and-claim-it” gospel) is the heretical idea that faithfulness to God will pay off in financial prosperity in this world, with believers often showing faithfulness by donating large amounts to the pastors involved. To see why this is false, one might ask why none of the prophets, or Paul or Peter, or Jesus for that matter, were ever particularly wealthy.
 Paula White and Wayne T. Jackson, well-known prosperity gospel preachers, spoke and prayed at President Trump’s inauguration.
 Both times this commandment appears in Leviticus, it prohibits lending with interest outright. The Deuteronomical version allows one to lend with interest to Gentiles.
 Amos 4:1. D Hubbard (quoted by Blomberg) notes that “the sarcastic epithet cows of Bashan seems to refer both to the luxury the wealthy women enjoyed and to a certain voluptuousness and sensuality which their extravagant life-style afforded them.” (The men of the nation are similarly mocked a few verses later)
 Isaiah 58:7
 Proverbs 30:8-9
 Isaiah 47:8
 Isaiah 47:11
 “Eschatology” is the part of theology devoted to things like the final judgment, the “end times”, and so on. “Eschatological” here refers to the fact that this reversal happens near the end of time with a massive intervention by God.
 from Luke 6
 Matthew 19:24. (And no, the “eye of the needle” isn’t a gate in Jerusalem.)
 Matthew 19:26
 This, as in our day (or perhaps even more than in our day), would have been surprising to Jesus’ audience. While there was a diversity of Jewish thought at the time, a significant strain (particularly among the Sadducees) viewed wealth as a sign of God’s favor, so that the rich were believed to have achieved God’s favor and to be guaranteed access to heaven, if such a place existed.
 Ezekiel 1:13-14,24
 Isaiah 6:4-5
 Luke 16:1-8
 Luke 16:9
 Luke 12:18
 Luke 12:20
An introduction to effective altruism I really enjoyed is Doing Good Better by William MacAskill.
 I don’t currently give regularly to a church or missionary work. This also shouldn’t be taken as a principled stance (we need churches and missionaries!), but rather as the result of a kind of jumbled and messy process of trying to weigh where I think God wants me to give at this time and probably getting some things wrong.
 It’s also possible that these things are part of God’s plan, which is of course much bigger and more complex than we can imagine, and have some eternal significance I haven’t thought of (e.g. if God wants a person to go to college because it’s where they’ll introduce somebody or be introduced to God.) At the same time, I think there’s a big risk of mistaking “God’s plan for my life” with “what I want to do”, so these decisions should probably be made only after extensive open-minded prayer.
 From “The Good Missionary” by Samuel Ikua Gachagua and Claire Diaz-Ortiz, available on Christianity Today’s website.
 Sites like CharityNavigator are not good enough. It’s not enough to see how much a charity spends on charity work vs. administrative costs: we need to see what the charity work itself actually accomplishes! I’m not convinced that “administrative costs” is a good measure at all—some administrative work is very good and helpful (e.g. somebody who coordinates net distributions), and some non-administrative work can be less useful (e.g. just buying food for people who need and want job training.)
 Yes, I realize it’s more complicated than this. All numbers in this section are ballpark estimates with largish error bars, not ironclad numbers, and shouldn’t be taken particularly literally. But they give us a decent idea of the moral weights involved.
 This is again only an estimate, but a sensible one: median life expectancy in the countries where AMF works range from 55 to 60, and GiveWell’s model only takes into account lives saved for children under five years old. (Apparently adult malaria deaths are more difficult to measure and have inconsistent research.)
 After writing this paragraph, I felt guilty and resold the tickets. So even if this article does nothing else, there was some positive effect. (Also somebody else got to see Hamilton!)
 At the same time, this (I hope) puts me in a position to give more later on. Questions of “making more money to give more money” lack simple answers. On the one hand, doing everything we can to help more people is an actively good thing. On the other hand, we can deceive ourselves into thinking we’re earning more to help others when we’re really just following our own desires for wealth or power or respectability. A few years ago I was thinking of going into finance “so I could donate more to charity.” My brother, as frank as ever, asked if I gave money to charity at the moment. I didn’t, particularly, so he asked “what makes you think you’ll start being generous when you have more money?” This had a very deep impact on me.
 This phrase comes from historical developments in Catholic social teaching and liberation theology.