Financial Success and Righteousness

February 4, 2005    By: Geoff J @ 4:02 pm   Category: Money and getting gain,Mormon Culture/Practices

Over at Nine Moons there was a comment on the fact that righteous people pray for business success and get none. This is something I’ve thought a lot about in the past. As of late I have had a lot of success with business. Yet other faithful Latter Day Saints I know are struggling horribly with business. How can I assume my success is because of righteousness when I’m no more righteous than these other saints? And if my success isn’t from blessing then is it sheer luck? It sure seems like some divine intervention has come into play with my successes… But there does not seem to be a direct correlation between keeping the commandments and financially prospering in the land, even though the Book of Mormon does repeatedly promise prosperity in the land as a reward for keeping the commandments. Apparently that prosperity is not necessarily financial in nature.

So why have I prospered financially then? It doesn’t feel like sheer luck. It feels like God has helped out. But why help me and not others? Well, I’ve decided the answer could have something to do with this scripture:

20 There is a law, irrevocably decreed in heaven before the foundations of this world, upon which all blessings are predicated-
21 And when we obtain any blessing from God, it is by obedience to that law upon which it is predicated.
(D&C 130:20-21)

I was not more righteous in general than those other Saints; I may have just obeyed the necessary laws to get that specific blessing. What laws might that include? Well over the last twelve years I got an MBA, I read a small library-worth of business books, I prayed continually for financial success, I have continued to strictly keep my covenants, and I have persevered through lean financial years… Maybe those were the laws that were associated with the blessings I currently am enjoying… Or maybe it was other things. Perhaps it was all luck too, I don’t know.

But looking at it like this was the only way I could figure out how to credit God for what feels like His blessings in my life. Doing anything else feels like I am either taking credit for the blessings or blaming it all on dumb luck and that just feels wrong…

What do you think about this idea of being blessed with financial success? How should a faithful saint explain it?


  1. Blog Weasel! I was planning a post on this.

    So for my two bits, I equate the promises for prosperity with the word of wisdom promises for health.

    No Mormon that I know doubts the promises of health in the D&C. When a young man in my last ward started having seizures or a recent university graduate was diagnosed with brain cancer, nobody said, ?It?s to bad they didn?t live the Word of Wisdom better.? Despite sickness, disease and death, I believe that it is evident that following the Word of Wisdom increases health compared to a situation in which I wasn?t followed.

    The promises of prosperity are, I think, exactly the same. I don?t know of any that would disagree with the assertion that you will have more financial benefit if you obey the commandments, than if you don?t (tithing aside). You don?t have to pay for cigarettes, internet pr0n, or prostitutes. You will likely have a focus and work ethic that is greater. All these blessing don?t negate that sometimes things don?t work out (like getting a brain tumor or losing a job).

    Posted by J. Stapley

    Comment by Anonymous — February 5, 2005 @ 3:30 pm

  2. Ha! Well considering the number of people that currently comment here you could probably run your post and have no one accuse you of thievery, J.

    I like your comparing the WoW and physical health to overall righteousness and prosperity. My only question about that comparison is that one could argue that the WoW/health promise is really a subset of the overall righteousness/prosperity equation. If that is the case, then what is the subset of the overall equation that relates to financial health/success?

    Some gospel teachers make pretty good arguments that wealth is usually more of a spiritual curse than a blessing to begin with. So that makes me wonder about my recent good luck with business too. I would like to think I have been blessed by God with success because I can properly use this wealth so it won?t canker my soul, but I may be giving myself too much credit… On the other hand, if getting rich would lead to the damnation of a saint then it seems the devil would want us rich and God would want to keep us in modest financial circumstances. These are considerations that don?t apply to physical health? 

    Posted by Geoff Johnston

    Comment by Anonymous — February 7, 2005 @ 11:43 am

  3. I don?t know?I think that people turn to God when there is financial trial and when there is health problems both. If you look at third world countries and assess the reasons for poverty, it is surprising how they are antithetical to the restored gospel: corruption, lack of education, lack of civil rights. True, sometimes it is simply a lack of resources, but if you look at the early church you find something very similar. Some of the world?s poorest people convert and move to a mountain desert. However, the principles of work, education, honesty and rights creates a ?prosperous? civilization.

    I do believe that some of the prosperity results from simply applying good principles. I also believe that sometimes, God blesses individuals with opportunity and stewardship. But, there is also luck.

    Seeking after poverty as a means for righteousness entails an asceticism that I don?t find evidence for in the gospel. True, wealth brings its trials, but it is a stewardship that can bring great blessings as well.

    Posted by J. Stapley

    Comment by Anonymous — February 7, 2005 @ 11:58 am

  4. I think you are right, J.

    Obedience to the commandments surely will bring prosperity — even financial prosperity. This is especially true when it comes to helping the poor get out of poverty.

    I guess I’m wondering at what point that principle stop functioning. What about shifting from middle class to affluent? What about shifting from affluent to just plain rich? How do you think these principles apply for someone who already in the 80th percentile among Americans in income… Would God help him rise to the 95th percentile as a reward for continued faithfulness? (see this chart for 2001 absolute numbers) I don?t know. It might be a case by case sort of thing once all actual needs are met…

    But I know lots of Mormons are at the 95th percentile and above and I?m wondering if there is much correlation between general righteousness and that. It seems to me that when seemingly faithful saint arrive at that level of wealth it could be a combination of some of the following:
    1. The Lord blessed them because of obedience to very specific laws to get there, or
    2. It is luck
    3. It is really just the arm of the flesh
    4. The devil is helping rather than God

    I don?t really believe the 4th is a likely answer, but I worry about the subject as my business is improving. If I get to the 95th+ percentile I hope it will be due to #1 and not a combination of the other three?

    What do you think? How does this subject change when it gets into greater wealth?

    Posted by Geoff Johnston

    Comment by Anonymous — February 7, 2005 @ 12:47 pm

  5. Geoff, I have a solution. I can personally alleviate any of your “spiritual curse” in the form of stocks, bonds, or just plain cash. It sounds like you are approaching that “edge of the cliff” we so often talk about completely avoiding. Just let me know how it’s coming and I’ll assure you of continued humility throughout life. 

    Posted by Rusty

    Comment by Anonymous — February 7, 2005 @ 5:01 pm

  6. Ha! That is the dilemma, Rusty. What is the edge of the cliff? I am not rich yet, but I could be some day (based on overall trajectory.) But it seems that no matter how rich I get I will probably jealously guard my lucre — even though guys like you probably deserve it more.

    I’ve posted before that greed and getting gain are the most tempting things we will face in mortality. Because of that, who should I credit if I ever get much more than I need? Who do all those rich Mormons credit for their wealth? And have you noticed that this is something nobody really likes to talk about?  

    Posted by Geoff Johnston

    Comment by Anonymous — February 7, 2005 @ 5:44 pm

  7. I’m kind of ambivalent when it comes to the big money (Bill Gates et al.). Historically, the wealthiest have not been on average the most Godly. Often such wealth comes at the expense of the poor. So maybe the question is not how much, but simply how. 

    Posted by J. Stapley

    Comment by Anonymous — February 7, 2005 @ 9:22 pm

  8. I think that Mr. Stapely is on to something. It always fascinates me how we always talk about what the rich to with their money, but don’t talk NEARLY as much about how they get it. Of course it’s terrible to steal it. But what vexes me is when people justify unethical business actions by saying, “hey, that’s business.” As if because it’s part of busniness that it somehow flies under the ethical radar.

    I like your question, “who should I credit if I ever get much more than I need?” That’s a toughy. I guess the righteous would always live on the edge of their means because they are giving the excess to the poor. But wait, if they were righteous they would be living a self-sustaining life. Curses! 

    Posted by Rusty

    Comment by Anonymous — February 7, 2005 @ 10:26 pm

  9. I guess the righteous would always live on the edge of their means because they are giving the excess to the poor.Alas, this is why I fear wealth. I think you are right and this is why I’m glad I’m not really rich yet. The day may come when I have a lot of excess and I fear that like the rich young ruler who went away from Christ sorrowful, I’ll be in the same boat when asked to give all to the poor and “come and follow” Him. I wonder why it is so easy for us to dismiss the eye of the needle comment.

    Giving excess to the poor sounds easy when you just have enough to get by, but how easy will it be to pay 10% of income in tithing and 60% in fast offerings because you can live on 30%? Answer: not easy. I almost hope I don’t get to find out.

    I have a reprieve until my debt including mortgage is paid off (the prophet told me to do that). Most rich Mormons (and I?m not talking Bill Gates rich, but those here make, say $250K+ per year) buy way too much stuff and then pay that off, though. As you said, it’s a toughy. (And it gets tougher when you consider that many or even most stake presidents and higher seem to fall into this category).

    Anyway, one example I know of a man who did just that — live a Spartan life and give all excess to the poor — was Hugh Nibley. And look what he’s getting in return: a mentally ill daughter who’s rushing to get her book out to accuse dad of all sorts of false and awful things in order to stick it to him before he dies! (But that deserves another post itself).

    Anyway, this is an overall subject that needs a lot more treatment and it usually gets glossed over in the church. Too painful and close to home for affluent folks like us Mormons I guess.  

    Posted by Geoff Johnston

    Comment by Anonymous — February 7, 2005 @ 11:23 pm

  10. Forgive the anonymous post–I would rather not identify myself given what I am about to say..

    This is an issue that haunts me. I am rich. I have far more money than I could ever spend for the rest of my life. I don’t know what to do about it. Or maybe I know, but I just don’t do it. I don’t believe that it is a blessing from God, and I did not do anything special to earn it. I happen to be good at some things that make a lot of money. I am lucky, pure and simple. I believe that is true for most wealthy people. It isn’t right that I should have the wealth I have while others starve. The scriptures seem clear to me–I should give it away to the poor. Perhaps I will some day, but I have not done so yet, although I have given away a considerable amount. And yet, I wonder why we have so few examples who give away their riches. In fact, I know of none. There are many church members who are wealthy. Many in high leadership positions are wealthy. Even those who are not wealthy are still quite affluent by the standards of the world. They live in houses that are bigger than they need, drive cars that are more expensive than they need, take expensive vacations, and eat at nice restaurants while their brothers and sisters starve. And yet, we often hold them up as examples to be emulated rather than as sinners. Are we all hypocrites? Is it acceptable to God that we live so affluently while others starve? And why do our own leaders seem to be missing in action when it comes to this issue? 

    Posted by anon

    Comment by Anonymous — February 10, 2005 @ 9:07 pm

  11. Thanks for you comments, anon. That is exactly the type of honesty I was hoping to elicit. This is a touchy subject so I’m glad you came by and can completely understand the requirement for anonymity.

    This money thing is a hairy issue. The fact that it is mostly the rich that are being called to positions of authority in the church is a bit strange too. I’ve had this conversation before and a seasoned friend of mine observed that there was a day when most stake presidents and higher were humble farmers and whatnot. That sounds almost ridiculous today. It seems we like our stake presidents (and above) rich now.

    However, a reasonable argument can be made that the most talented saints tend to get temporally rich because of talent and diligence, but their faith is what qualifies them for the position of great responsibility. I can buy that. What concerns me is cases like one I know of when a rich counselor in a stake presidency was called to be president of a stake even though he was moving out of the stake boundaries into an opulent 15,000+ sf mansion he was building for his wife and family. I just don?t get it. What about the example priesthood leaders are supposed to set? Is it really acceptable for a saint with temple covenants to pour millions into such opulence while he appare ntly?passes by the poor and needy and notices them not?? Well the scriptures say no, but apparently the person in charge of calling that man to leadership felt otherwise. It must be a mystery of God because I sure don?t get it. Or perhaps it is just another sign of the times.

    As you know, wealth gets a death grip on us. It is Satan?s ultimate play against us as far as I can tell. I?ve written about it before. I worry for my soul so I?m trying tricks to get myself to let go of that money. I remind myself it?s really all about the Return On Investment when I give large portions of my income to the poor. The eternal ROI is completely worth the cash. Consider these quotes from President Kimball from this First Presidency Message in 1976. (I?ve quoted it elsewhere, but it?s worth re-quoting).

    I recently learned an interesting fact: If a man owns a million dollars worth of gold at today?s prices, he possesses approximately one 27-billionth of all the gold that is present in the earth?s thin crust alone. This is an amount so small in proportion as to be inconceivable to the mind of man. But there is more to this: The Lord who created and has power over all the earth created many other earths as well, even ?worlds without number? (Moses 1:33); and when this man received the oath and covenant of the priesthood (D&C 84:33?44), he received a promise from the Lord of ?all that my Father hath? (D&C 84:38). To set aside all these great promises in favor of a chest of gold and a sense of carnal security is a mistake in perspective of colossal proportions. To think that he has settled for so little is a saddening and pitiful prospect indeed; the souls of men are far more precious than this.

    Comment by Geoff Johnston — February 11, 2005 @ 12:12 am

  12. Geoff: I too can agree that often the talents that make one affluent are talents that are also rewarded in our society with monetary success. Note, that these talents are completely unrelated to one’s standing in the eyes of God. There is no reason to suppose that good church leaders are more likely to be exalted than anybody else. However, we have precious few examples of people who acquired wealth and then truly dedicated to helping the poor. Many can and do make significant contributions. But is giving away $10 million that big a deal if you still have your million dollar home and BMW? And what of those who are not rich, but still live in $500k homes when they could get by just fine in a home that half that size and build a small school in Africa with the excess? It is not just the super rich that have it wrong. It is the large majority of us.

    It is interesting to me that in the church, we have created an artificial hierarchy of sins. You can’t go to the temple if you are guilty of sexual sin, break the word of wisdom, don’t pay tithing etc. I have had a fair degree of experience on both sides of temple recommend interviews. I have never yet heard anybody confess to the sin of breaking the law of consecration which they covenanted to keep in the temple. I have not done so myself. I am fairly sure that if I did so, my interviewer would quickly find a number of reasons why I need not worry, and why I have misunderstood the law of consecration. I freely acknowledge my hypocrisy, but it angers me that we strain at the gnats of the word of wisdom and a thousand other things and piously ignore the second great commandment. It is also troubling to me that Jesus’ words ring out loud and clear to me, but I have never heard a talk by general authority admonishing us for our selfishness. (Encouragement to pay a generous fast offering is not the same.)

    I am glad that there are people like you who are paying attention to this issue.

    Comment by Anonymous — February 11, 2005 @ 8:42 am

  13. Ouch. I resemble that remark! Nice work at calling a spade a spade, Anon.

    And all joking aside, it terrifies me. Of course I have my own litany of excuses for my cars that are nicer than I need and my house that is bigger and nicer than I need. I am sorely tempted to share them here so I can get the comfort I am seeking, but that really is the problem isn?t it? Of course the best way to defend my position is to point out any one of the numerous men in high position and say ?see they too have all these things so you are right on track!?

    Right on track? It probably is a very good track actually. My question is: Is there an even better track? A road even less traveled? A more strait gate and narrower way than even most of our priesthood leaders have chosen to take? The scriptures seem to say yes. And as you noted, it probably comprises actually living the law of consecration here and now ? or at least doing a much better job of it.

    Some may cry foul at this point. ?What? Are you saying the mainstream of faithful church members and leaders are not on a path to the highest celestial glory?? Interestingly, that modern question could feed perfectly into: ?Who then can be saved??(Matt 19:24) Of course you know the verses ? we get them in 3 of four gospels. Following the rich young man?s sorrowful departure Jesus explains: ?a rich man shall hardly enter into the kingdom of heaven? and ?It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of God.? Of course the disciples were shocked at how few people could pass this test in this life. But we?re talking about exaltation here! Why should we think it is cheap?

    Now back to the question about being on a path to the highest celestial glory or not ? I want to caveat that by saying if a person is repenting and improving they are on that path. The difference is that it appears that at some point in the eternities we will all need to get to the point where we too are willing to forsake all and follow Christ if we wish to inherit ?all the Father hath?. We are perfectly free to choose to do that in this life or not.

    This gets back to my Heisenberg post on the mainstream and the free-will break away entities. Apparently this principle applies on basically every macro and micro level (the course of the Lord is one eternal round). Abraham talks about how there is always one intelligence above another? why should we assume any form of spiritual homogeneity? All we have to do choose for ourselves.

    I for one wonder if like President Kimball?s trapped monkey I can really give up my shiny things in exchange for something of real value. Perhaps this also helps explain why faith is the First principle of the gospel of Jesus Christ, because doing so will require more faith than I currently have. Lord, help thou my unbelief!

    Comment by Geoff Johnston — February 11, 2005 @ 10:43 am

  14. This goes back to the old question about whether it is ok to travel by coach when a horse would do, to take a horse when a canoe would do, to float down river when one could walk …

    It goes to a lot of other issues too.

    I have far more money than I could ever spend for the rest of my life. I don’t know what to do about it. 

    You can always endow 20-30 research only chairs at a law school (profs teach one seminar a year, primary duty is to publish). If you wanted to help your ego as well as spend money.

    I’ve been looking at parents with wealth who gave it all away (there are examples). The kids were often proud of Mom and Dad, but the real issue picks up with grandchildren who are only poor. (thinking of some case studies from the Mormon Colonization period).

    I still don’t know.

    I do think of Jesse K. Knight though.


    Posted by Stephen M (Ethesis)

    Comment by Anonymous — February 13, 2005 @ 8:34 pm

  15. I guess I think about it as my Mom was disinherited for joining the Church.

    The kids have all turned out ok, my parents are happy in their relative poverty, the grandchildren are all headed to college.

    But I look at issues, and choices and results and it is interesting, especially since wealth is very relative.

    Comment by Stephen — February 13, 2005 @ 8:36 pm

  16. Thanks for the input, Stephen and Stephen (I assume there are two of you…). Worldly wealth is clearly a tricky issue in the Church. Stephen M, thanks for the Jesse K. Knight mention. I think he is an example of why the Lord might actually be willing to give us worldly wealth — if we are strong enough to spend it on others rather than ourselves. That is the requirement Jacob describes for it as I mentioned in the part 2 post  on the subject. Also, for any readers not familiar with Jesse K. Knight — don’t worry, I had to look him up too. This link has a brief bio. 

    Posted by Geoff Johnston

    Comment by Anonymous — February 14, 2005 @ 8:32 am

  17. Geoff,

    Blogger logs me in as Stephen under the software that kicks in for follow-up posts. sorry about that.

    But I’ve thought a lot about wealth and related issues. Just heard today that my mom’s twin sister died in January. There she was, not too long ago, explaining how it was necessary to embezzle my mom’s inheritance since her husband was leaving the kids six million each and money to other things and there would be nothing for her … now she is dead before he is.

    My mom is of mixed feelings. She had always hoped for a reconcilliation, feeling that family was more important than money. Never got it, now it is too late.

    Anyway, I need to do a longer post about money, generational transfer of wealth of various kinds (inlcuding spiritual wealth), utopias (or why the parent’s utopia is never one that the kids can live in) and similar things.

    There is a real issue about security, having “enough” and what it all means, especially as there is never security in this world.

    Posted by Stephen M (Ethesis)

    Comment by Anonymous — February 14, 2005 @ 7:35 pm