I’ve been watching, and personally been affected by the whole financial meltdown that’s been hitting the world unrelentlessly over the past few weeks.
And frankly, it’s been a great insight into human nature. Or if you don’t mind me saying – a great insight into sin. And how believers should respond to this whole mess created by human greed and stupidity.
The Bible states it quite clearly – "No one can serve two masters. Either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and Money.” Matthew 6:24.
Of course, we live in a godless world, so most people don’t bother about the above statement. But the Bible is probably a better financial advisor than the fresh grad that’s trying to sell you some unit trusts or investment package.
For example, I like to tell everyone my favourite book is Ecclesiastes. There are several key quotes inside there that really helps to put things into perspective.
Ecc Chap 3:
1 There is a time for everything,
and a season for every activity under heaven:
2 a time to be born and a time to die,
a time to plant and a time to uproot,
3 a time to kill and a time to heal,
a time to tear down and a time to build,
4 a time to weep and a time to laugh,
a time to mourn and a time to dance,
Life tends to go in circles. What we experience today isn’t new. This isn’t the first financial meltdown to hit the planet. This isn’t the first recession to hit Singapore or the rest of the world. Yes, it could be the worst in many decades, but the important thing is – it isn’t the first time. So why do people keep making the same mistakes?
This is why it’s important to know a bit of history, and learn some economics along the way in school. People often scoff at learning history, preferring to go for Geog lessons. Fools! (Sorry fellow Sec 4A1 classmates who took Geog, this is more a figurative exclamation lah)
From history we learn the wisdom and the stupidity of men that have come before us. One should not believe everything he reads in the papers, but some things keep repeating themselves in news stories:
1. People who pour all their life savings into a few stocks or financial investment packages are asking for trouble. One should value liquidity above all else when one has limited resources. I keep getting asked why I let a huge chunk of my savings languish in a savings account – that’s because you don’t know when the storm will hit. And for years, I couldn’t afford to play in the stock market because I was still building my egg nest. (Of course, thanks to Murphy’s Law, the entire market crashed just when I started using my DBS Vickers account this year, after 4 years of inactivity).
2. People who blame everyone but themselves when their entire savings go poof. I was somewhat annoyed by the guys who signed the petition to MAS and did a protest at Speakers’ Corner about being misled by banks. Were they not guilty of being attracted to high returns at high risk? It may be true that relationship managers did not explain to them the risks involved, but surely one must realise (especially since many of these are older people who have been working for many years), that there is no such thing as a free lunch.
Ref to earlier point – why did many people put their retirement savings into high-risk instruments? Did they have any reserve? The Gahmen is not here to tell you what to do with your money, but help build an infrastructure for you to earn money. Do people even read Aesop’s fables these days? There are some fundamental finance lessons there too.
3. Markets go in cycles, and sometimes they go bust. But they always recover. Everyone is saying that this is the worst financial crisis ever. But will it end up killing off a majority of big companies in existence? Probably not. Common sense tells us that the market will reach equilibrium, regardless of the total capital left behind, and life will go on. Telcos, electric companies, railway companies, FnB companies, will not shutter overnight because of their reduced stock price as they derive income from daily needs. The stock market will recover, investor confidence will return. And so on.
So why all the panic selling? This is the worst time to sell your shares if they’ve already been battered badly. Do you need the cash so badly that you need to claim back any cash you’ve invested? Refer to point 1 and 2 again. I did turn pale when I saw the value of my portfolio drop from –5% to –12% in 12 hours. But man, I’m prepared to wait this out and at least break even.
What’s more worrying to me, is how many people are going to be retrenched as part of companies’ plan to recover from this whole mess and how they’re going to find new jobs. We should have more sympathy for the person who cannot feed himself, rather than the person whose shares have been whacked.
4. Health is more important than wealth. Until you encounter cancer in the family, you might never realise how little money means when you’re facing imminent death. Or when your close relative is about to die. Money can buy anything but health.
For those self-delusional pastors who claim that if you love God, He will give you both health and wealth in abundance….well, they evidently haven’t read Job or understood the depths of Solomon (writer of Ecclesiastes).
God gives and takes, and nothing you can do will decide otherwise. There are plenty of good Christians who will never be rich, and plenty of evil rich people who appear to live forever.
5. This is not mentioned in newspapers, but you can’t take your money with you when you’re dead. For the Christian who fears God, we’re more terrified of being sent to hell than anything else. Money is a trading tool used to purchase items for basic needs. When we start to obsess over it, we start to worship it. But all the money in the world won’t save you from going to hell and suffering eternal damnation.
I make no apologies for saying those lines – as Christians, we believe hell exists and it’s a far worse fate than any financial meltdown can bring onto us. So that’s why I find it a bit odd more people are turning to Christianity (or any religion for that matter) during these tough times. Try as you might, God will probably not answer your prayers to turn a particular stock around. He’s more interested in whether you understand how we all got here, and what we intend to do about it and the future. I do hope these newcomers are asking the right questions.
To summarise – many of us being impacted by the financial turmoil have to ask ourselves – how much of it was attributed to our own greed and pursuit of a fast buck?
It has forced me to ask myself too: how have I managed my finances? Why did I buy all my insurance policies from AIA? Will I know better the next time round? And what does God think of my actions so far? Or that the fact that I have not used my finances to further His will?
So let me close with this great Ecc chapter…Chapter 12 to be exact:
1 Remember your Creator
in the days of your youth,
before the days of trouble come
and the years approach when you will say,
"I find no pleasure in them"-
2 before the sun and the light
and the moon and the stars grow dark,
and the clouds return after the rain;
3 when the keepers of the house tremble,
and the strong men stoop,
when the grinders cease because they are few,
and those looking through the windows grow dim;
4 when the doors to the street are closed
and the sound of grinding fades;
when men rise up at the sound of birds,
but all their songs grow faint;
5 when men are afraid of heights
and of dangers in the streets;
when the almond tree blossoms
and the grasshopper drags himself along
and desire no longer is stirred.
Then man goes to his eternal home
and mourners go about the streets.
6 Remember him—before the silver cord is severed,
or the golden bowl is broken;
before the pitcher is shattered at the spring,
or the wheel broken at the well,
7 and the dust returns to the ground it came from,
and the spirit returns to God who gave it.
8 "Meaningless! Meaningless!" says the Teacher. [a]
"Everything is meaningless!"