“Start making retirement investments as soon as you start earning!” This was a Law of the Medes and the Persians, inviolable and unchanging.
That truth—and its corollary, that compounding interest is magical—was the stuff of high school economics in my day. With a lifetime of steady investments we would retire in style. And this was the distant aim of life—to reach an era of all play and no work.
Thankfully it dawned on me along the way that the happy-retirement model of life wasn’t worth the pay slips it called for. People are better investments. Because lives last forever.
The investments we make in others include moments of caring and sharing, building and cleaning, lending and lifting, weeping and laughing that, together, become a life lived for family and neighbors.
Our motive for investing is everything. Is it based on our autonomy; or our faith? The former pursues personal security and success. Call it Individualism. The latter seeks the welfare of others through selfless love. Call it Community.
To be clear, love is deeper than being ‘nice.’ It’s the fruit of a blind soul gaining sight—of dead souls reborn into life. It displays God’s presence—his Spirit—living in a soul. He changes our priorities and values not by coercion or magic but by a loving devotion that draws and transforms us.
Sin—the moral label for autonomy—was first birthed by Adam and Eve’s ambition to “be like God.” The version of “God” the Serpent offered them made others into commodities for personal kingdom building, even the authentic God.
By redefining God for the sake of autonomy a sinner can be either religious or irreligious. In the Bible we find moral blindness in both the Bible-devoted Pharisees and the secular Roman soldiers. They were equal partners in Christ’s crucifixion. So while a godly person has religious qualities, a religious person isn’t necessarily godly.
We’ve addressed autonomy in prior blogs. It’s the problem Augustine of Hippo and Martin Luther both described as being curved-in-on-self—as in the new self-consciousness the first couple displayed in Eden. Augustine also called it pride and Luther labeled it a blinding self-love.
The problem of sin has a full spectrum of options. It extends from the sharp tyranny in a Hitler or Stalin to the religious selfishness of an Ananias and Sapphira: from the overt to the subtle. And, ironically, it needs relationships to work. Selfish souls are relationally intertwined with both witting and unwitting supporters. No one is an island, and even a band of thieves need to cooperate with each other.
The ambition for personal success drives and shapes Individualism. But there’s a conundrum here. How do selfish people ever manage to work together? Only by creating formal or informal contracts that stipulate mutual benefits. Everyone is guaranteed some sort of success.
The lover, by contrast, makes and fulfills selfless promises. This goodness spreads as recipients respond with similar and mutual devotion. Selfless love stirs selfless love. So the communion of faithful friends grows out of mutual devotion and delight rather than from duty.
So we find two versions of ‘relationship.’ One relies on the contractual ties of autonomy. The other relies on promise-based bonds of love. Yet both share the common appearance of clear mutuality—but only for a time. Whenever a contract runs its course for the Individual it also ends the need for any relationship. Any ties are strictly pragmatic. Love, on the other hand, is happily impractical and faithful.
A contractual life may, of course, seem to be selfless at times. In some marriages, for instance, appearances of selfless mutuality may be present. But the spouse who loves-the-least begins to signal that he or she has certain expectations. In time this leads to an inevitable outcome: “You don’t meet my needs any more.” Then the faithful but now rueful partner—who may have lived by love—can look back and see that contractual features were always in play.
Let’s use this marriage analogy to come back to our original theme of investing.
God disclosed his own being when he launched human marriage: “So God created man in his own image.” The “two” who are “one” in marriage display God’s own relational image as expressed in a plural “our” and “us” of Genesis chapter one. And, as Jesus later affirmed, “So they are no longer two but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let not man separate” (Mark 10:9).
We need to ask, then, whether God’s Triune unity is contractual or ontological. Could the Son ever exist without the Father? Or vice versa? Does the Spirit have the option of being the Spirit of the Father but not of the Son? Or vice versa?
No. God’s Triune unity of mutual love—as the God who “is love”—always maintains personal distinctions, yet without any autonomy. His promises are unconditional and enduring. And so, too, are the mutual promises of authentic marriage. They won’t be broken.
Proper investing, then, has this as its bedrock: God’s love gives without making demands. And that’s what we’re made for—to enjoy the selfless life of “Christ in us, the hope of glory.” And, in turn, to realize that “it is more blessed to give than to receive.”
So let’s go out and enjoy our investing. There are lots of lives to be built up in the New Year!