Wednesday 4 March 2015

Retirement savings, part two

This is a follow-up to a previous post, in which I was wondering whether we should give away the money we had intended to save for our retirement, rather than keep it.

The more I have been thinking about whether we should give our money away, rather than save for our retirement, the more Biblical passages come to mind in support of the idea.

I think about the man who built bigger barns and then died before he could use the produce in them (Luke 12:13-21): are we, like him, storing up treasure for ourselves rather than being rich towards God?

Then last week I came across Proverbs 30:7-9:
Two things I ask of you;
    do not deny them to me before I die:
Remove far from me falsehood and lying;
    give me neither poverty nor riches;
    feed me with the food that I need,
or I shall be full, and deny you,
    and say, “Who is the Lord?”
or I shall be poor, and steal,
    and profane the name of my God.
I felt convicted by it as I know that our wealth makes our need to depend on God less obvious to us.  We depend on our resources instead, and in practise then often live as if He doesn't exist.

Last week I also read Matthew 6:25-34, where Jesus says:
do not worry, saying, ‘What will we eat?’ or ‘What will we drink?’ or ‘What will we wear?’ For it is the Gentiles who strive for all these things; and indeed your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things.  But strive first for the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.
What is retirement saving if it isn't worrying about what we will eat, drink and wear in the future?  And doesn't holding those resources for the future prevent us from using them to strive for the kind of world God wants in the present?

In addition, when Martin and I read Luke a couple of years back, we were both struck by how dismissive it is of money.  I'd always been puzzled by the passage where Jesus says to give to Caesar what is Caesar's and to give to God what is God's (Luke 20:20-26).  However, when we read it after reading all the rest of Luke that comes before it, it seemed obvious: Jesus is saying 'if Caesar wants money - give it to him!'.  Money is of very little importance, so why fuss if Caesar wants it?  I blogged about it at the time, here.  Since then, I've wondered a bit about our careful budgeting.  By really planning how we spend our money, we've been able to live frugally and give a fair bit away - but it also means that we think a lot about money, and I've wondered whether that means we're giving it too much importance.  I've now started to wonder whether carefully saving for retirement is also giving money undue importance.

Lastly, throughout the Old Testament, one of the main things the Israelites do that makes God angry is turning to things other than Himself for security: foreign gods/idols, their own military strength, alliances with stronger nations or whatever.  This has long given both Martin and myself pause when it comes to insurance.  It seems only sensible to have it (especially with my medical situation), but in so doing we are turning to something other than God for our security.  Now I'm wondering about whether it's appropriate for us to save for retirement, as well.  After all, that's turning to our own efforts to ensure our security, rather than depending on God.

So, that's 'the case for'.  What about the case against?

The first thing I thought of was the phrase "be wise as serpents but innocent as doves".  Surely what we're thinking of isn't wise?  But, when I looked it up, it turned out that Jesus said it when he was talking to the disciples about how to respond to persecution: that didn't seem very relevant.

One that seemed to have a bit more weight was the description of a 'capable wife' in Proverbs 31.  In verse 25 it says that she's such a successful merchant that she 'laughs at the time to come'.  She's clearly stashed resources aside for the future, and she seems to described as someone to be admired, so doing so can't always be bad.

Another passage that gives me pause is Luke 4:9-12.  When Jesus is being tested by the devil in the dessert, he tells Jesus to throw himself off a high tower: he'd be OK because God would rescue him.  Jesus responds by saying that you shouldn't put God to the test.  The text he quotes, Deuteronomy 6:16, doesn't really seem to be about forcing God to rescue you (it's more about forcing God to get angry by disobeying Him) but the way Jesus uses it does give me some caution about deliberately putting myself/ourselves in a position where we are relying on God in a way that we wouldn't otherwise have had to.  That doesn't totally put me off the idea, though: it just means that we need to do it whilst accepting that we may end up very poor indeed in old age, rather than do it assuming God will sort us out.

The more I think about this, the more it just feels like the right thing to do.  It feels very wrong, in that it's so clearly irresponsible, but it feels like what we should do all the same.  This internal conviction seems to be confirmed by what I read in the Bible.

It also feels very scary.  This has revealed to me that I don't really believe in my gut that God will provide for us.  I think that that's partly a healthy reaction against the 'prosperity gospel', but mostly a simple lack of faith.  I personally know people who have stepped away from cultural norms and impoverished themselves who have then miraculously been provided for, but it still feels impossible to me that this would happen to us.  Since I realised this, I have been praying for an increase of faith!  After all, God 'owns the cattle on a thousand hills' - he has unimaginable unlimited resources, so He is certainly capable of caring for us....  That doesn't mean He will - Christians starve to death every day, after all - but it does mean that He could.

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