My prized possession at age 8 was my Pokémon card collection. I begged my mom each time we went to the store to buy me new packs of cards in hopes that I could complete the set of 151 original Pokémon cards. I’m not sure if I knew what having a dream was back then, but if I did, it would have been to “catch ‘em all.” The only other way to get a complete set besides buying ridiculous amounts of cards was to trade them with your friends. Now I was not a great salesman in third grade, but I did manage to grow my collection a fair amount because of trades. Each time I got closer to 151, I got a little more excited.
I look back on those days with fondness but also with a bit of embarrassment. I think it was then that I first experienced greed. I just wanted more and more of these small, painted rectangles. When I grew up, I learned that people still collected small painted rectangles, they just changed games. Instead of colorful cartoon animals, adults collected green bills with old, dead men painted on them.
What is Greed?
Greed is often depicted as an ugly thing. Just turn on an old episode of Scooby Doo and chances are you’ll find out at the end the bad guy was a greedy businessman in a costume. We watch these shows and we all agree together, “Greed is bad.” The love of money in these people leads them to do terrible things—scaring others, hurting others, threatening others. But it’s not just in fiction where we see greed played out in diabolical manner. In the last few years, certain pharmaceutical companies have taken serious flak for hiking up the price of essential, life-saving drugs purely to make an increased profit. We can all agree that pursuing a fortune without any consideration for the people we may harm is an evil, evil thing.
But let’s consider for a moment what greed is. Ask the average person what greed is and they would probably say something like, “doing anything to get more money.” This is undoubtably what we’ve just seen to be the case. Greed is wanting more wealth and going for it in any way possible, even if it means harming others to get it. The point I want us to consider, however, is could greed be more than that?
Greed is easy to call out when we see it depicted on the screen. A ruthless businessperson who is willing to cut jobs, slash salaries, and dislocate individuals from their homes in order to make a quick buck? Greedy, no doubt about that. Why do they do these things? To get more money. Why do they want more money? To have more than the next guy. Why do they want to have more than the next person? To feel superior to them. There’s the motivation. Greed is never about collecting more for the fun of it. Greedy people stockpile to have more than the next person, in order to show that they are better. The need to be considered better, more valuable than their peers is what drives the greedy.
If this is the case with greed, money (and Pokémon cards) is no longer the only thing greed can latch onto. Anything that you can have that makes you feel more valuable than others can fit the bill. You may not see the size of your bank account as the determinate of your worth, but is your passport? Do you think that because you’ve been to more exotic, cultural locales than your coworkers that it makes you more important, thoughtful, or valuable? Or maybe its not travel that you equate with worth, but knowledge. Do you consider the letters after your name a sign of your success as a human being? Or how about your open-mindedness? Do you look down on others who hold to “primitive” views on sexuality, race, or politics? Are you more important a person because you are willing to be more thoughtful, openminded, and accepting than the average joe?
What Do You Value?
Whether we can see it or not, all of these are forms of greed. In every case, we measure something we have (money, experiences, intelligence, love, acceptance, open-mindedness, etc…) against others and view ourselves as valuable because of our possession of it and seek to gain more. By extension, we view others who have not as less valuable than ourselves and seek to gain more to increase our value over them and others. Greed is not about possessing stuff but possessing more than others. It’s a game of comparison.
When we talk about this broad view of greed, it often goes by another name, pride. Pride is all about measuring ourselves against others in whatever quality is deemed worthwhile. C. S. Lewis says this about pride in comparison to our money-only view of greed,
Greed will certainly make a man want money, for the sake of a better house, better holidays, better things to eat and drink. But only up to a point. What is it that makes a man with $10,000 a year anxious to get $20,000 a year? It is not the greed for more pleasure. $10,000 will give all the luxuries that any man can really enjoy. It is Pride—the wish to be richer than some other rich man, and (still more) the wish for power. For, of course, power is what Pride really enjoys: there is nothing make a man feel so superior to others as being able to move them about like toy soldiers. What makes a pretty girl spread misery wherever she goes by collecting admirers? Certainly not her sexual instinct: that kind of girl is quite often sexually frigid. It is Pride. What is it that makes a political leader or a whole nation go on and on, demanding more and more? Pride again. Pride is competitive by its very nature: that is why it goes on and on. If I am a proud man, then as long as there in one man in the whole world more powerful, or richer or cleverer than I, he is my rival and my enemy.
Greed, in any form, will leave us making enemies of those around us. They may be Hitler-level enemies or simply annoyances. What greed can’t do is make us love. You can’t love someone you feel superior to. You can’t love a person who you feel is less valuable than you. Greed stands in the way of us living with one another in a way that promotes love, unity, and peace. How do we rid ourselves of this greed to become people who can truly live in harmony? They only way we can do so is by seeing the most radical act of ungreediness possible and being changed by it.
What Will Cure Your Greed
Philippians 2:6-9 says this, “though Jesus Christ was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.”
What we read here is the summary of the life of Jesus Christ, the ultimate ungreedy man. In a few places, the Bible gives us glimpses of what it is like in heaven when God rules over all of his creation. The most common is a decked-out throne room with music and singing, all praising God. What the passage that was listed tell us is God himself chose to leave behind what he had in heaven— countless servants, endless riches, all-consuming power, and fathomless comfort—to be born a lowly human existence. Not only that, but he lived a hard life, a marginalized life, and suffered a gruesome death on a cross. Why? To help us be rid of our greed.
Greed doesn’t simply make us enemies with ourselves, it makes us enemies with God. Who has more than him? You want to measure your worth by your wealth? God has all the resources in the universe. You want to equate your value with how much you know? God knows the placement, speed, and direction of every molecule of the universe, along with all the written and unwritten wisdom that reality holds. You want to base your importance on the places you’ve visited? Ever been inside the Sun? God has. Our greed, our competitiveness with others ultimately is a fight with God. And the only way you can get over it is to see all the riches that God gave up for you. When you look to Jesus Christ on the cross, you’ll be humbled by how much he gave up, even his own life. All to make you see the cost of your greed and God’s love for you despite it.
Gaze at Jesus’ humility. His act of divine sacrifice will kill your need to base your value on what you have or try to get. When you see him, you’ll finally be able to love others who have less (or more) than you. You’ll find that you have all that you need in him, even if you don’t have all 151 original Pokemon.