Men prepare a meal for enjoyment, and wine makes life merry, and money is the answer to everything.
-Ecclesiastes 10:19

It's a miracle, by golly, this stuff we call money. With it, you can do just about anything. You can travel the world or live and dine in the most opulent places and in the most extraordinary environments. Somebody somewhere will do just about anything for you. You can enjoy the greatest luxuries, access amazing intellects or buy astonishing art. If you are inclined to share or bequeath, you can feed the poor, cure the sick, solve elusive mysteries or endow great universities. Or, if you're more self-centered, you can enjoy an array of personal indulgences. You can get great drugs with impunity, amass extraordinary collections, travel in style, get the best medical care, bribe the influential or pamper yourself in any number of ways. It provides us with security, fun and stimulation. Is money amazing or what?


Actually, there is plenty wrong with it. It is, at best, imperfect, especially in our personal and collective failures to understand it. Not only do we fail to understand it fully, we are not remotely aware of ourselves in relationship to it-and that seems fraught with implications, especially in these financially perilous times. Accordingly, I suggest we'd best be about the business of understanding it.

Before proceeding, let me make it clear. I am a big fan of money. I believe it is extraordinary, a key to civilization and a powerful alternative to violence and coercion. At its best, money makes it possible for human beings to share our finest qualities with each other, peacefully. And let's consider it on an even loftier plane: More acts of peace, love, sharing and genuine brotherhood occur daily within money's embrace than through any other man-made artifact. Indeed, money is arguably humanity's greatest innovation. So maybe it is important and merits our appreciation. Maybe. But again, not quite-at least, not without some exploration, conversation and fresh thought.

To begin with, we know that money is sufficiently challenging that it is the second-most-addressed topic in the Bible. So for at least a couple of thousand years, it has occupied a central place in humanity's thinking about life, ethics, purpose, priorities and balance.

We also know that money is at the heart of astonishing pain, both in its abundance and its scarcity. The notion that money does not provide happiness is confirmed in study after study. We can see right now the social ripples when we treat money badly. Money tempts. It can poison relationships, rip families and communities asunder and bring good people to sin and perdition.

So what is wrong with it?

It is not just the economics, although that's trouble enough, particularly when its "scientists" do not respond to challenges facing their underlying axioms. Nor are its problems illuminated by the 20th century capitalist/communist/socialist dialectic-although this nonsense continues to plague public conversations, interfering with rational thought of all kinds. No, it is money itself. Money has an array of characteristics and quirks that render it unpredictable, mysterious and unreliable. Ideally, we would understand these and learn to work with them or around them. Unfortunately, money itself is not so accommodating. We cannot avoid it, yet it can wash through society like uncontrolled floodwaters-with similarly unpredictable results.

Money can lead to both personal self-destruction and to the manipulation of entire systems. Moreover, it is subject to force. The guys with guns can take it away from rightful owners and law abiders. Hackers with keyboards can be even more effective at this than robbers carrying heat.