We human beings tend to assess our relative status and success based on things like money, possessions, popularity, career, and power. Am I wealthy and well-connected? Do I have a large house with a great room, cathedral ceilings, granite counter tops, and numerous widescreen TVs (even in strange places like the bathroom)? Do I have a glamorous career instead of a “demeaning” job? Do I have good looks (through big hair, cosmetics, or even plastic surgery)? From a worldly perspective, all of these things mean that I am successful, that my life has reached its goal, that I have made it to the top.
But of course none of this really matters to God. Even worse, it may even negatively configure us for the day of judgment. Too often, we amass great worldly riches, but are poor in what matters to God.
Do we honestly think that God will be impressed by many of the things that impress us? Does God measure success by our standards? Countless Bible verses teach that the answer to this is a definitive “no.”
Summarizing his inverse stance to all we hold glorious, God says,
- For My thoughts are not your thoughts, Nor are your ways My ways,” declares the LORD For as the heavens are higher than the earth, So are My ways higher than your ways And My thoughts than your thoughts. (Is 55:8-9).
- Or again, Many who are last shall be first (Matt 19:30).
- Or yet again, (speaking of the rich man who built bigger barns) Thus will it be for the one who stores up treasure for himself but is not rich in what matters to God (Luke 12:21).
And thus on the day of judgment, it does not seem that God will be impressed by some of the following human benchmarks for success:
1. How much money was in your bank account when you died. In and of itself, acquired wealth is not intrinsically evil. The Lord made no universal condemnation of wealth.
However, wealth carries with it great responsibility. The Lord is not impressed with our six- or seven-figure income. Rather he is interested in what we did with it.
Were the poor blessed? Were jobs created? Did you use the excess of your wealth to bless the common good in some way? This need not mean that you indiscriminately threw money about to those who could not reasonably use it well. It might mean that you used it to develop new technologies that created new job sectors. It could mean that you endowed worthy and holy causes. It could mean any number of things. But the bottom line is that your excess wealth should benefit others, not simply glorify you.
Dying with lots of money in your portfolio does not impress the Lord so much as it will create a responsibility in you who died with it. Whatever wealth you have beyond what you reasonably need really belongs to others, and should be applied intentionally toward the welfare, the goodness, and the growth of others. Wealth carries grave responsibilities. Before we simply boast of it, we ought to remember that those with wealth and power will be judge more strictly. Scripture says,
Command those who are rich in this present world not to be arrogant nor to put their hope in wealth, which is so uncertain, but to put their hope in God, who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment. Command them to do good, to be rich in good deeds, and to be generous and willing to share. In this way they will lay up treasure for themselves as a firm foundation for the coming age, so that they may take hold of the life that is truly life (1 Timothy 6:17-19).
2. How much money you left to your children as an inheritance. It’s a nice thing to leave a little something for your kids. But inheriting vast amounts of wealth is not necessarily a good thing. It creates the illusion that fruitfulness can or should be obtained without labor.
It does not take much study of the lives of children of the rich and famous to discover that pampering is a huge issue. Add to this the many warnings about wealth in Scripture and it starts to seem that leaving lots of money to your kids is almost like setting a snare for them. Consider the following:
- But if we have food and clothing, we will be content with that. Those who want to get rich fall into temptation and a trap and into many foolish and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction. 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 Tim 6:8-10).
- And Jesus said to His disciples, “Truly I say to you, it is hard for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven. “Again I say to you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God” (Matt 19:23-24).
- The seed falling among the thorns refers to someone who hears the word, but the worries of this life and the deceitfulness of wealth choke the word, making it unfruitful (Matt 13:22).
Again, let it be said that money is not intrinsically evil. But if heaven is the goal, and the Lord warns consistently that wealth is dangerous at best and an obstacle at worst, then loading kids up with wealth and material things is problematic and not something that will likely impress the Lord on the day of judgment.
Yet even knowing that wealth is dangerous and makes it hard for us to inherit Heaven, we still want it, congratulate ourselves for having it, and then saddle our kids with it (congratulating ourselves still further). And if we think the Lord is going to be impressed with all this amassing and bequeathing, we probably have another think coming.
3. What the square footage of your dream home amounted to. Most of us who are over 50 grew up in homes of 1200–1500 square feet. And we thought these were spacious compared to the little tenements and row houses of the previous generation.
Many people now think it is reasonable to demand square footage of 5000 or more. And they further demand many amenities such as a great rooms with cathedral ceilings, master suites with tray ceilings, granite countertops, multiple televisions, and walk-in closets the size of the room I shared with my brother!
But the Son of man had nowhere to lay his head. And Jeremiah warns,
Does it make you a king to have more and more cedar paneled walls? Did not your father have food and drink? He did what was right and just, so all went well with him. He defended the cause of the poor and needy, and so all went well. Is that not what it means to know me?” declares the Lord. …I warned you when you felt secure, but you said, ‘I will not listen!’ This has been your way from your youth; you have not obeyed me. You who are nestled in cedar buildings, how you will groan when pangs come upon you, pain like that of a woman in labor! (Jeremiah 22:15ff)
In other words, it is nice to have a fancy house, but how does it affect our ability to help the poor or to stay focused on spiritual things? Therefore watch out; not only is God unimpressed with your square footage, he is quite worried about it. Our houses are bigger but emptier. We have fewer children (with widespread contraception and abortion), but bigger houses. They are emptier, but still they must be bigger and bigger. There is more and more contraception, more and more abortion, but there is no room in our bigger houses, no room at all! There is no room for the poor, no room to adopt or raise foster children, no room for children of our own. There’s no room for anything but our bigger egos.
4. That you provided a college education for all your children. I know, I know, I’ve attacked a major sacred cow. It is almost universally unquestioned that a college education unlocks the future for the recipient of it.
I only seek to point out major concerns that ought to be considered. First of all, those who seek to acquire these degrees are often exposed to four or more years of a moral cesspool. They are taught moral relativism and many other things that are unambiguously hostile to the faith we supposedly hold dear. For the majority of young people exposed to this, it will be years (if ever) before they return to their faith.
There are valid options available, but most parents give little attention to good Catholic colleges (such as those the Newman Society recommends) if they can get their kid into Harvard or Yale or “once-Catholic” colleges like Georgetown. Almost no one counts the moral, psychological, and spiritual cost of being educated in these sorts of secular and often pernicious institutions we call higher education.
But even then, one might argue that with a solid grounding in the faith it would be okay. But sadly, while many parents will make incredible sacrifices to send their children to these institutions of so-called higher learning, most lift almost not a finger to teach them the faith that alone can save them. So they make great sacrifices for their children to be able to climb the ladder of success, never considering that it is leaning up against the wrong wall. They send them to moral cesspools but seem more concerned for their grades than for their moral or spiritual lives.
Hence on the day of judgment, the Lord will be less than impressed that you sent your child to an Ivy League school or even to a state college. What he WILL wonder and what WILL impress him is that you handed on to him or her the holy faith that He revealed.
Too harsh you say? Forgive me dear reader. If the shoe fits wear it, otherwise, let it pass over you. But for many, the shoe fits all too well.
5. Whether you were popular and all spoke well of you at your funeral. While we are not called to be sociopaths who care not one wit about what others think, too many of us have turned being nice, being liked, and being esteemed by men into an ideal.
But Jesus was nailed to a cross. And so Jesus also suffered outside the city gate to make the people holy through his own blood. Let us, then, go to him outside the camp, bearing the disgrace he bore (Hebrews 13:12-13).
Are you greater than Jesus? He says,
If the world hates you, you know that it has hated Me before it hated you. If you were of the world, the world would love its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, because of this the world hates you (Jn 15:18-19).
Jesus will not be impressed that you were esteemed by human beings. He warns, Woe to you when all men speak well of you (Lk 6:26). Rather, Jesus will be impressed that you and I were willing to speak the truth in love and were willing to bear insult for the sake of the Kingdom.
On Judgment Day, fare you well! But be sure of this: the Lord will not use the standards we are so obsessed by. We need to come to a new mind to get ready for Judgment Day! Fare you well.