More than almost anything else, what has the greatest ability to erode our trust in God?  I would like to suggest that the answer — as unpopular as it may be — might just be money. 

Quickly on the heels of a discussion of the stunning victory at the Battle of Badr, today’s section turns to a far less glorious battle.  The Battle of Uhud was the second time the Muslims of Medina led by Muhammad met the Meccans.  Much like Badr one year before, the Muslims were greatly outnumbered but started the battle with great success, driving the Meccans back.  Then, when the battle looked like a sure victory, the Muslim archers abandoned their posts in order to plunder the Meccan camp.  This allowed the Meccan cavalry to circle behind the Muslim line and bring a surprise attack from behind.  Ten percent of the Muslim force was lost and many more were injured including Muhammad himself.  The Muslims retreated and the Meccans marched home victors.   

It is interesting how the Qur’an described the fatal moment in the battle:

God fulfilled his promise to you: you were routing them, with His permission, but then you faltered, disputed the order, and disobeyed, once he had brought you within sight of your goal — some of you desire the gains of this world and others desire the world to come — and then he prevented you from [defeating] them as a punishment. (3:152)

The Qur’an sees this fundamentally as an issue of disobedience driven by greed.  They fail the test of whether they would trust in God or not (3:154).  Instead they run after riches thinking that somehow money will bring a greater reward than can be found in God.  But “believers should put their trust in God” not money (3:160).  A pure relationship with God is “better than anything people amass” (3:157).

As I mentioned yesterday, the combination of the Badr and Uhud stories in quick succession with the messages they both present — victory in trust, defeat in distrust and greed — call me back to the stories of Jericho and Ai in Joshua 6-7.  The similarities are striking.  At Jericho, Israel proceeds with unquestioning trust and obedience.  The result is a victory we even teach to our children.  Then the very next chapter Israel suffers a humiliating defeat at the hands of the underwhelming people of Ai.  Why?  The same reason we saw in the account of Uhud: greed and disobedience.  Achan, an Israelite soldier, had disobeyed the command to leave all of the plunder in Jericho as a sort of “firstfruits” for God.  He stashed gold under his tent and as a result a sure victory was compromised. 

This tandem of tandems (Badr and Uhud, Jericho and Ai) asks us the same question: who or what will you trust?  Both take on riches as prime competition to real trust of God.  Both admonish people to rely solely on God.   

Money has this way of creeping into our consciousness and flavoring everything we experience.  Money offers false promises, but we have a hard time seeing the lies.  Money convinces us we have power, and for a time it might even give us some.  Money liberates us from our dependency on others; with a wad of bills in our pocket we can strike out on our own.  We tell ourselves we don’t need “handouts,” and the hands that offered therefore become less important.  Soon we see a small stockpile and convince ourselves it was of our own doing.  How long before even God becomes unnecessary?  How long before we only look to our pocketbooks to solve our problems?  Ask yourself: what do you immediately think when your car has an unexpected breakdown, when you do your taxes and you owe more than you thought, when a tooth begins to give you problems, or when the leadership at your church asks you to increase your giving?  Does your first thought go to how much money is in your bank account?  Yeah, me too.  In whom or what do we trust? 

Here’s an irony: we place “In God We Trust” on our money in America.  Are we sure?  Or are we trying to convince ourselves?

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