Pastoral Perspectives

The Fantastic Three

What is the most talk-about topic for this Chinese New Year? I guess it is about the ongoing investigation by CPIB on two top civil servants in a country that has been consistently ranked as one of the least corrupt in the world. Recent media reports revealed that both parties have been linked to a certain female executive of a company that supplies IT-related products and services to government offices. How should Christian response to the fantastic three – money, sex and power? The preacher of Ecclesiastes 2 gives us the truth: 9So I became great and surpassed all who were before me in Jerusalem. Also my wisdom remained with me. 10And whatever my eyes desired I did not keep from them. I kept my heart from no pleasure, for my heart found pleasure in all my toil, and this was my reward for all my toil. 11Then I considered all that my hands had done and the toil I had expended in doing it, and behold, all was vanity and a striving after wind, and there was nothing to be gained under the sun.”

Money, sex and power are often associated with human sin that we read these words as a list of vices. However, they represent or reflect an aspect of creation that God deems to be good. But even Solomon, considered as the wisest king, had his heart led astray by temptations of wealth, sex, and power. And we face the same dangers today, though the temptations may differ in degree and detail.

An English professor wrote these words, “Woman without her man is nothing” on the blackboard and instructed his students to punctuate it correctly.

The men wrote:“Woman, without her man, is nothing.”

The women wrote:“Woman: Without her, man is nothing.”

Last Sunday, while driving home with my family, we were also discussing about the follies and the recent headlines in our local papers. In our discussions, my son said that his lecturer once commented that behind every successful man is a woman. One of his classmates then mumbled that behind every failure of a man is also another woman. We chuckled and then my second daughter punctuated our conversation saying that the woman is still successful in both cases.

So what’s the moral behind all these? The Fantastic Three is the reality that we need to deal with in this world.  Often, our use of money, sex and power is disordered by our sinfulness and the sin that lives around us. We are tempted to misuse or abuse it. With regards to money, we are often tempted by greed and avarice – putting our trust in it more than in God. It is the same thing with sex. We see it as a way to make life a source of inordinate pleasure. And instead of seeing persons as subjects, we treat them as objects of money or pleasure. With regards to power, the temptation is also to misuse and abuse it.

The monks and nuns in the early centuries saw that the solution to such problems of money, sex and power is by religious vows. So the vow of poverty regulates the desire for too much money. The vow of chastity regulates the desire for too much sex. And the vow of obedience regulates the desire for too much power. Richard Foster in his book “A Christian Perspective on Money, Sex and Power” showed us how we can translate such traditional catholic spirituality for our time. For the vow of poverty, he proposes the ‘vow’ of simplicity. For chastity, he proffers fidelity. And for obedience, service. Richard Foster treats the ‘vows’ of simplicity, fidelity and service as responses to how we can rightly use money, sexuality and power that is truly according to God’s will.

The Bible tells us that the human heart is an “idol-factory,” taking money, sex and power and turning them into idols that control us. Many of us placed our faith in these idols, believing they hold the key to happiness but with a sneaking suspicion they might not deliver. The recent economic situation or what our financial experts called technical meltdown has cast a harsh new light on these pursuits. In a matter of months, fortunes, marriages, careers, and secure retirement plans have disappeared for many people. No wonder many feel lost, alone, disenchanted, and resentful. But the truth is that we have made gods out of these good things — gods that can’t give us what we really need. There is only one God who can wholly satisfy our cravings — and now is the perfect time to worship him again.