By Luke Nix
A few months ago, an article on Lifehacker with some financial advice caught my attention. In today’s materialistic (financially speaking, not philosophically speaking) society, resentment towards those who spend more than we do is a real problem. Whether the source of the money is hard work, financial responsibility, a gift, a stroke of luck, a “cush” job, credit, something else, or a combination of any number of those things, there is a tendency for these people to be resented by others based upon their choices with money. While this may seem like something that is far removed from any apologetic topic, it really is not. This resentment is a feature of the fallen human condition, and any worldview that claims to be true must be able to explain its existence and have a solution for it, if it really is such a problem in the first place. Lifehacker is definitely not a religious site, and while I do not pretend to know the worldview of the author, generally there is at least an attempt by the authors to answer questions from within the secular worldview. So I was interested to see how the author would attempt to address this issue. I will start with looking at what is offered in the article and provide a practical critique, then I will offer an alternative that has greater explanatory power and practical usage. I would encourage the reader to check out the article before continuing. It can be read here: How to Deal With Resentment When Your Friends Make More Money Than You
What Solutions Did Lifehacker Offer?
While all the ideas in the article are good bandages, they do not address the cause of the problem. Since they do not address the cause, the resentment will return again and again. The solutions offered are good in the sense that they will last temporarily, but they will not fix the problem in the long term.
The first solution offered is to repeatedly “forgive” the other person for their ignorance of the resentful person’s situation. This will get frustrating over time because the resented person is never made aware of how they have “offended” the resentful person and will never be provided the opportunity to change (not that they have actually done anything immoral that requires a change, anyway, so communicating such is likely to be challenged and cause two-way resentment).
The second suggestion is that the resentful person replaces the negative story in their head, about the resented person’s situation and how they can spend more, with a more positive story about that person’s situation. The problem with this is that all that is being suggested is to replace one speculation with another speculation. The author encourages the reader to tell themselves whatever they have to (true or not) to make them feel good about the person they resent rather than feel resentful toward them. Unless the resentful person habitually lies to themselves for practical reasons or is used to believing useful fictions, this will not last long either. A person can only believe something they know to be false for so long before they finally reject it and lose any “benefit” from believing it.
The third idea offered is merely a more systematic way of “keeping up with the Joneses.” The goal is to be able to spend the way the other person does so that the resentful person is their materialistic equal. This too will not fix any issues with resentment for the object of the resentment will just change from the one person, who is now their equal, to the next person who spends even more. The resentment is not removed, it is displaced temporarily only to return and be targeted at another person. Ironically, in this “solution” resentment is self-perpetuating and never-ending.
The failure of all of these solutions indicates the failure of the explanation (worldview) that they are grounded in. Thus an alternative worldview (with a viable solution) is necessary.
What Is The Source?
While the author did not explicitly say that the resentful person is the problem, she did imply it in her focus on changing the person feeling the resentment. While I do believe that she is generally correct about the location of the problem, the specific identification of the problem is incorrect, thus so are the offered solutions based on that incorrect problem (this is how the secular worldview fails the test of practicality).
Temporary vs. Permanent
The author did get very close to the cause by suggesting that the resentful person ask a question of themselves: “What do I have to gain from being resentful.” But that was the wrong question. The right question is “Why am I so resentful?” Interestingly, the answer is universal to all humanity but was not identified by the author because the wrong question was asked. The cause of the problem is a lack of contentment and gratitude. If we learn to be content and grateful for what we have, rather than focusing on what we do not have, we can be satisfied with our own situation and not be constantly comparing it to that of others. Without comparison, resentment has no grounding point.
However, several worldviews would grant that the lack of contentment and gratitude is the source of the problem of resentment. For instance, Christianity, New Age and Eastern worldviews tend to grant this. However, I believe that there is an important distinction that separates Christianity from the rest. While other worldviews can only provide a temporary solution (even to the correctly identified problem), Christianity offers the only permanent solution. But what is it? The Apostle Paul told the Phillippians the missing component (“the secret”): Christ (Phil. 4:11-13).
But how can Christ be the missing component? Being discontent and ungrateful is the natural, default position of the human heart, and the heart cannot change itself, no matter how hard or how long it tries to deny what it is (another useful fiction similar to the one I described above). Thus the temporary effect that will necessarily result, even in other worldviews that accurately identify the problem, is that people will attempt to change their heart apart from something outside themselves that has the causal power to accomplish the change.
Paul expounds on this in his letter to the Romans (8:18): when we are focused on Christ, we are focused not on the temporary, physical things of this universe (such as money and things) but on the permanent, eternal life beyond this universe. When we are concerned with what is permanent and everlasting, it is easy to be content with whatever we have that is temporary and finite. It is only the focus on Christ and the everlasting life beyond this universe that He offers to us that will ultimately allow us to overcome materialistic resentment- “I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do everything through Him, who gives me strength” (Phil. 4:12b-13). And while we are focused on Christ, He can change our heart.
It is not merely enough to be focused on something outside this universe (such as Nirvana or Moksha in the Eastern worldviews) because our focus will fade and no permanent change can take place. It takes a causal agent, who is also the object of our focus (Christ), to change our heart. Please do not mistake “focus” for an eastern-style “meditation;” the focus I speak of is not just a mental exercise but a complete surrender and dedication of our lives to Jesus Christ.
We also must recognize that “every good and perfect gift comes from the Father” (James 1:17). Giving thanks (gratitude) only makes sense if we have been provided something by someone other than ourselves. It is this second necessary solution to resentment that can only make sense if Christianity is true. God is the source of the temporary and finite things we have been given. So even though money and other temporary things are not our focus, we must still be grateful for them. This removes the focus on a second level- from what we do not have to what we do have. And with our lives surrendered and dedicated to Christ, we are free to search for ways to use what (little or much) God has given us for eternal purposes, not just the temporary purposes of this life. I think that financial guru Dave Ramsey puts it quite succinctly in his popular book “The Total Money Makeover”:
Considering the fact that God has given all people the intuition that resentment is evil (or at least undesirable) and He has given us a mind that can reliably solve problems, it is no surprise that even secular solutions can get some things right. However, they will never be complete without the whole of reality in view. The solution must include Christ. The solution to financial resentment can only take place through a renewed life in Christ. No other worldview can come even close to competing with Christianity’s solution offered to financial resentment. If you are struggling with financial resentment and are tired of struggling to rely on yourself to fix a problem you, as a human, do not have the ability to fix, Jesus is the only hope for a solution to your problem. He extends the invitation: “Come to me, all you who are weary and heavy laden, and I will give you rest” (Matt 11:28).
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