The ancient Mayan people saw their kings and priests as godlike, if not actual gods themselves. If you’ve seen the cripplingly violent film Apocalypto, you know that the Mayans practiced human sacrifice (a highly contested fact among viable historians; the Mayans seem far less violent than many other ancient people groups). In the film, the ritual is interrupted by the arrival of rain clouds. This is one area where the film makers did not take a wildly anachronistic stab at American history, though they avoid delving into the reason:
The Mayans saw their rulers as gods not purely because they grew up thinking that, or because they were brainwashed—it was because the leaders secretly controlled the water supply.
How do you convince an agrarian culture which has yearly seasons of drought that you’re not only in charge, but are connected to the supernatural powers? Yield the water and dole it out as you see fit. The people will worship you.
We see the same thing in Mad Max: Fury Road, where Immortan Joe holds back the water supply in order to hold onto his power over the people. Because it’s a dystopian future where currency has no meaning and only things of practical value can be exchanged, controlling the water means controlling much of the world.
The ones with the resources are the gods of the age.
It’s easy for us to look at Mayans or Mad Max and scoff. How could they be so foolish? We know who really controls the resources! All these natural things come from God! etc. etc.
But today it clicked in for me while listening to “Los Angeles” by Ameer Vann. At one point, he raps,
I remember back when it was simple
I ain’t have to fight with all my n****s
Money complicated every issue
Man, it’s crazy how they deal with you…
I feel like God in a scary way
The key is in the two lines I bolded above. He is telling the story of how he got rich, then his life grew more complicated. I had heard the last line many times before while listening to the song, but today it clicked in why he feels like God now that he has money.
Just like the classical cultures of old, the ones with the resources are the gods.
He controls who in his neighborhood could get an extra $10 for running an errand. He is in charge of…well, most things. People with money call the shots.
Money is the new water.
I feel like God in a scary way.
Now that natural resources like water, gas, heat, electricity, are somewhat regulated and we don’t need to fight over them, fiat currency is the new godmaker.
This isn’t a political argument for one side or the other, but think about the stimulus checks that have been going out lately. Who controls those? The poor people? The middle class? Or the ultra rich. They’re giving us money, but try to imagine for a moment how tickled you would be if you were the one pulling the lever to rain dollar bills down on millions of hungry folks.
The power would be intoxicating.
The rich control the water;
the rich control the world.
Rich people don’t just live in nicer houses, have cooler toys, and driver hotter cars. They control the downward trickle of resources into the rest of the population. Historically and sociologically, that is a function of a god, or at the very least, a god-king. From the pharaohs of ancient Egypt to the Caesars of Rome to whom every citizen had to offer an annual pinch of incense, human cultures are littered with power wielded in the form of wealth and resource control.
Suddenly, as a follower of Jesus, it makes sense why He would say that rich people will have a hard time getting into heaven (Matt. 19:24). I previously thought this was simply because they were distracted by their nice, shiny things. Now I believe it’s because, as Vann rapped, they “feel like God in a scary way.”
What use do you have for God if you’re God?
Why would you need to ask God for something when you’re the one controlling the resources?
I feel like God in a scary way.
The growth of your wealth and power is not merely distracting from the kingdom of God; it is antithetical to it to the degree that you think you’re in charge of running the world. The wealthy, in a very real way, call the shots and operate as a god to the rest of their citizens.
Perhaps this is why the first beatitude listed by Jesus is,
Blessed are the poor in spirit,
for theirs is the kingdom of heaven
You can be rich and still be poor in spirit. There have been countless wealthy people who used their wealth to benefit the world. Francis Chan and Rich Mullins earned millions of dollars and gave it all away to help the world. Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey gave away billions of dollars to help educate women in Africa. Granted, even acts like this could imbue him with the feeling of a god distributing aid to the millions crying out to him.
The legendary graphic novel Watchmen opens with a monologue from the twisted character Rorschach who stands atop a skyscraper overlooking the city and proclaims,
The accumulated filth of all their sex and murder will foam up about their waists and all the whores and politicians will look up and shout “Save us!”…
…and I’ll look down, and whisper “no.”
The question is,
Do you feel like God in a scary way as the result of what you have?
Are you atop the temple, slicing up virgins as an act until you’re ready to hand out some water? Is the feeling of playing God intoxicating you?
You can also be relatively poor and be rich in spirit. I see this in my gym all the time. I talk to 19-year-olds who sell weed and sneakers and think they’re the kings of their neighborhood. By most standards, they are not rich rich, yet their hearts betray a mindset of those who are ‘rich in spirit.’
It’s not mere distraction that causes this, as I’ve heard countless pastors preach (“If you’re rich, be careful! Your money can distract you from Jesus!”). Rather, it’s the elevation of the self above others. It’s the feeling godlike among your peers. It’s the control and power you accumulate as you grow richer, and then how you use them.
So regardless of how much money we have, let’s grow toward being poor in spirit.
Let’s, as Paul instructs in Philippians 2, consider others better than ourselves.
Let’s adopt the mindset of Jesus who withheld nothing from those below Him, but joined us, His enemies, and suffered for us instead.