I recently started a new job at a printing factory. I usually arrive early and spend some of the time reading a passage of the Bible and then think about it before going inside to work. Since I’m usually pressed for time and somewhat distracted, I figured I’d focus on one passage a week and hope to familiarize myself with it and figure it out. My first passage was Psalm 49 and it was sort of an ironic choice. The little song perplexed me and as I kept returning to it I began to see how it connected with this whole Occupy Wall Street mess.
The gist of the Psalm is that the writer is coping with rich people. What makes it such a curious passage is that in v.5-6 he writes, “Why should I fear in times of trouble, when the iniquity of those who cheat me surrounds me, those who trust in their wealth and boast of the abundance of their riches?” What struck me was what he was admitting: he was afraid of rich people. But why? This took me forever to get and the answer lies in v.5. Apparently because of the sins of the rich, the psalmist was put under strenuous times and for that he was afraid of the rich and their power to wield money however they please.
Doesn’t that sound like Occupy Wall Street? I mean, what are the protesters upset about? They hate that because of the corporate greedy fat cats the nation is in its current predicament of economic recession. They feel cheated. Isn’t that what the psalmist just said? Could it be that the root of the protesters’ cause is fear? It makes sense. The sins of these wealthy people have resulted in tougher economic times for the rest of us, right? They have all the finances and security they need, we struggle just to make ends meet. In such times of uncertainty, we become afraid.
But at that point the psalmist pulls away from the Occupy Wall Streeters. He doesn’t suggest raiding banks or forming tent cities and not bathing for days. First he notes that eventually these rich people will die and they will take nothing with them. Not even a dime (see vs. 7-14). The irony is that for all their wealth and power, they still can’t buy off death. “Man in his pomp will not remain; he is like the beasts that perish” (v. 12). They face the same fate as everyone else.
But the psalmist then comforts himself that he has a way out and it’s not through money, it’s through God (v. 15). The psalmist rightly sees that it is better to rest in the grace of God than to rest in money. And so he doesn’t have to be afraid of whatever trouble the rich may brew up (see vs. 16-20). If they are apart from God, then God will dole out justice…not people in a tent city sitting outside on the lawn. Again he reitterates: “Man in his pomp yet without understanding is like the beasts that perish” (v.20).
So do these protesters’ have a legitimate fear? Absolutely. I hate that rich people are squandering money just as much as the next guy. But do they have a legitimate solution? No. Sure, it’s a democracy, they have the right to free speech. But what makes them think that if they had more money they would use it in wiser ways? At first they probably would, but then they would sink into the same hole as the greedy corporate bigwigs before them. Why? Because the answer isn’t money. Money won’t save us. Only Jesus can. Only Jesus can separate us from “the beasts that perish.”