Perhaps you heard. A 16-year-old from Texas killed four people in a drunken car crash.  He was spared incarceration and given only probation. A witness for the defense, a psychologist, argued that the court should consider the mitigating circumstance of “affluenza”—that nasty affliction among wealthy children who thought parental money could spare them from bad circumstances.
Personal responsibility is under attack
Modern psychology has a hard time understanding wrong behavior and personal responsibility. Though we should not lump all psychological models together, none of them have a biblical view of our relationship with God, so all of them will be muddled about human purpose and responsibility.
The tug in most secular systems is toward environmental influences. Since what is inside the person is unclear to them, these systems specialize in what is outside the person. To date, the most deleterious environmental influences on a person are considered to be physical and sexual abuse. Others, such as divorce, fatherless homes, and poverty almost make the list but they remain on the periphery for fear they could offend. Absent from the list of harmful influences has been wealth and privilege. Then along comes affluenza and we wonder if the apocalypse is right around the corner. Each alleged cause of bad behavior seems to subtract another piece of personal responsibility, and without moral culpability, we become an infantile people.
Scripture identifies wealth as a handicap
That being said, Scripture does say that wealth can be a problem. It took me until seminary, after I had more experience in observing wealthy families, that I realized this is true. In other words, though the word affluenza is silly, the truth is that the Bible views wealth as a significant handicap.
The problem is identified as early as the exodus. When Moses gave his final sermon to the people, he said, “Beware lest you say in your heart, ‘My power and the might of my hand have gotten me this wealth’” (Deut. 8:17). It is hard to remember the Lord when you can trust in what you have.
Wealth, indeed, shields us from some of life’s consequences. It begs for our allegiances. It gives privileges and abets arrogance, indolence and parsimony. Jesus consistently highlighted its dangers and deceitfulness (Mark 4:19) and shocked the disciples when he said “it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God” (Mark 10:25).
But we are still responsible
Give me neither poverty nor riches; feed me with the food that is needful for me, lest I be full and deny you and say, “Who is the LORD?” or lest I be poor and steal and profane the name of my God. (Prov. 30:8-9)
This proverb acknowledges the power of influences (poverty or riches) and urges us to affirm our spiritual allegiances when those influences come knocking. More wealth or more poverty (or anything else) does not change our responsibility before God. Instead, Scripture takes these influences very seriously without jettisoning human agency. We need both in order to understand people accurately, including a 16-year-old from Texas.
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