January 14, 2009

How We Got Here

2009 1502 page7 capHE TENTH COMMANDMENT IS ALMOST UNIVERSALLY IGNORED. That’s the one that says we’re not supposed to covet (Ex. 20:17).
But coveting is such an intangible transgression. I mean, who’s going to know if I’m coveting my neighbor’s house, car, dog, or cat? And what’s to stop me from “admiring” my neighbor’s big-screen TV, iPhone, or swimming pool?
Yet the world financial crisis, which dominated headlines in the last quarter of 2008 and will likely affect us well into 2009, is a direct result of covetousness.
For most of the past decade a huge number of people here in the United States saw investments as variations on some get-rich scheme. Assuming that the stock market was going nowhere but up, financial firms borrowed money to buy stocks they supposed would provide huge returns. Home owners were encouraged to buy houses they couldn’t afford, and properties they thought they could sell at a profit, on the assumption that housing prices would continue to climb. Consumers took out home equity loans and maxed out their credit cards to remodel their homes or take expensive vacations. After all, isn’t that what everyone else was doing?
Now the economy is in shambles, and people who went out on a limb to live beyond their means will experience financial distress that could’ve been avoided had they resisted the temptation to covet.
Clearly, the current financial crisis was caused by situations far beyond our control. But even for those of us who had the limb cut out from under us, God’s promise remains: “Keep your lives free from the love of money and be content with what you have, because God has said, ‘Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you’” (Heb. 13:5).

Stephen Chavez is managing editor of the Adventist Review.