Balancing the books

You’ve probably heard the name: Bernard L. Madoff. It’s been in the news but maybe you’ve forgotten the salient points; Bernie Madoff was born 29 April 1938 and is about to mark his 78th birthday while serving year seven in custody in a 150 year sentence.

Bernie is in prison because his fraud was profound, and frankly unprecedented. When time came for his sentencing the federal guidelines had only envisioned fraud amounting in the millions of dollars. Bernie had committed fraud to the tune of $64.8 billion, over 40 times what legislators had envisioned as the maximum that a fraudster would filch. The investment management division of Bernard L. Madoff Investment Securities, which was founded in the 1980s, received investments from individuals, other funds, banks and companies and promised a return of 10%. Such good returns – even in years when the markets did poorly – could not be replicated by other investment firms who wondered how Bernie was managing to do it all.

Most people just thought he was awesome at investments and did not question things too much. Bernie however was engaged in a Ponzi scheme of epic proportions and probably didn’t intend for things to get so out of hand. But it all came crashing down on 11 December 2008 when he was arrested, and if anyone had to guess they might imagine that Bernie knows by now – if he knew anything – that it simply wasn’t worth it.

The financial toll was staggering for the countless investors who trusted Bernie; some couples and families were literally wiped out, and there are people who literally lost millions. Those investors who were flimflammed proverbially put all their eggs in one basket. This idea doesn’t make much sense in this savvy and risk-averse culture however there are always people taking big risks for a potentially big reward. As long as there are people with money there will be schemers with a way to re-distribute the wealth their way.

You have to have money to make more of it. It doesn’t grow on trees and certainly didn’t in the Garden of Eden. Genesis records that the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil had seeds and that Eve considered it good for eating, which is how we know it wasn’t a stack of $100 bills. Traditionally, wisdom means that we mitigate risk and manage it, hence investment firms, stock brokers with portfolios, long and short term insurance. Whole industries are predicated on the idea of risk management and risk-aversion.

How different this is in the Kingdom of Heaven, which seems to make little sense in the light of our daily, worldly experience. The Kingdom of Heaven says in sum that we should put all our eggs in one basket if that means that we trust God with everything. In the Kingdom, diversification is bad and the economy works very differently.

In the Kingdom, the first will be last and the last first. Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the Kingdom of heaven. The poor in spirit know that they are in need and that this world’s economy could one day Madoff them, but God’s economy never will. It may seem foolish to trust God that much and to extravagantly ‘waste’ one’s life doing his will but those who do are blessed. Do you remember the story of the woman who broke the alabaster jar of perfume and poured it over Jesus? What that woman did was profound and Jesus understood the gesture, and the disciples did not, and that woman is remembered for the right reasons. It seemed wasteful, however to that woman, the contents of the jar were worth a lot and that made it a sacrifice. Another lesson here: you can’t worship Him enough.

Jesus told a parable of the Master who came to settle accounts as recorded in Matthew 18. This illustrates that the Master’s accounting is precise and what is more, fair and balanced in accordance with the degree of skill of the servant.

The world’s economy is vastly different from God’s economy however the principle of debit and credit can be applied to the keeping of books. His books always balance and where there is a debit – as there is from time to time – He uses his Grace account to wipe out the debt.

Bernie Madoff owes a moral debt for the crimes he committed and in the economy of God – if Bernie Madoff wants to appropriate it – that moral debt can be wiped clean.

Matthew 6: 19 – 21

19“Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moths and vermin destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. 20But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moths and vermin do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. 21For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.

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