I AM MY BROTHER’S KEEPER
By Akin Ojumu
Forbes Magazine is famous for its eponymous lists, the Forbes Lists. Each year, the business periodical publishes various world rankings in categories such as sport, entertainment, political power, and wealth. The Forbes Lists chronicle, among other things, the World’s Highest-Paid Athletes, the World’s Highest-Paid Entertainers, and the World’s Most Powerful People. Each list is a Mount Rushmore of vainglory and the catalogs are a golden statue of vanity. The most reputable of these compendia of bloated egos is the List of the World’s Billionaires.
To appear on the List of World’s Billionaires, you must be mega wealthy. For anyone to get on this exclusive list of the ultrarich, such an individual must have a net worth that runs in the billions, determined by real time estimate of the wealth and assets of the individual, and a nest egg that is sky high. Because of the prestige this directory of hubris confers, many go to great lengths to get themselves on the list by inflating their wealth and assets. Those with high enough wealth to earn a spot in the gazette of pomposity brandish it as bragging rights and an affirmation of their elevated financial status.
Dissect it whichever way you want, a man with a $1 billion in net worth is a man with staggering wealth. To have a billion dollars in the bank, is to sit atop a mountain of fortune. For those with a flair for the spatial, one million dollars, if stacked up in $100 bills, is the height of a regular chair which is 1 meter (3.3 feet). One billion dollars, in $100 bills, will stack up to a height of 0.827 kilometers (0.514 miles), which is higher than the world’s tallest building, i.e., the Burj Khalifa skyscraper in Dubai.
If you are a regular folk like me, and spatial correlates are not your strong suit and you can’t relate to dimensions, a billion dollars can best be understood in terms of kitchen table issues that confront most of us on a daily basis.
It’d take a frugal man, who puts aside $100 a day, 10 million days (27,387.26 years) to save $1 billion. On the other hand, a spendthrift, who burns through cash like an out-of-control bonfire, would have to wait 500 years before running out of $1 billion if he spends at a rate of $5,000 a day. If for some reason this prodigal son decides to pick up the pace of his reckless extravagance, and he goes and hires a coterie of moochers and freeloaders to help him in his wantonness, and spends $50,000 a day, it will still take him 25 years before he fritters away $1 billion and ends up pitching his cardboard tent in a dingy corner of the boulevard of the homeless or finds himself sharing sleeping space with swine on the muddy floor of a pigsty.
Today, so much wealth is concentrated in the hands of so few people. In 2018, according to data compiled by the charity group Oxfam, 26 of the world’s richest people owned as much net worth as the poorest half of the world’s population, about 3.8 billion people. By the latest count, there are over 2,153 billionaires in the world with a total net worth of $8.7 trillion. Yet, the combined asset and net worth of the world’s richest is pittance compared to the wealth at the disposal of Adam and Eve before the fall.
When Adam, the progenitor of all mankind, was formed from the dust of the ground, the whole earth was his possession and he held the key to the treasures of the world. With 100 percent ownership of the planet, his was the full controlling interest in the asset of the universe. The land, the sea, the air, and everything in them was his. From the prime estate of pleasure, the Garden of Eden, the master of the universe manages his immeasurable net worth spread across the whole earth. So blessed was Adam that all the animals of the field and all the birds of the air were brought to him to see what he would name them. Whatever he called each living creature, that was its name; Adam named the cattle, named the birds of the air, named the wild animals, he christened them all because he was the lord of the earth.
Adam and Eve were blessed beyond measure until a fateful encounter with the devil. They were set for life in opulent abundance until the day they took the bait and swallowed the hook of the serpent’s deceit. A single encounter with the prince of darkness forever transformed the destiny of the human race. Ever since that day, the world of man became beset with lack and the story of man has become that of limitless wants in the midst of limited resources. The life of man took a turn for the worse, and it became characterized by pain, toil, and sweat. The earth was cursed and everything in it, yielding nothing but thorns and thistles.
With the downfall of man came the deluge. Sickness and disease, like a hurricane, rain pain and suffering on the world. Poverty and lack, like suppurating lesions, clothe the children of men with misery and sorrow all the days of their lives. Poverty and hunger are two sides of the same coin. In a deadly synergy, the effect of one potentiates the other. Like Siamese twins, the poor and the hungry are joined in a vicious cycle of deprivation and destitution.
At 7.7 billion population, ours is a world of haves and have nots. As the world’s haves get steadily richer, the have nots have become increasingly poorer. The gap between the rich and the poor has become an ever-expanding chasm of income inequality. Today, while the haves live a life of wasteful debauchery and filthy lucre, close to 1 billion have nots worldwide live in perpetual hunger not having enough food to eat. More than 3 billion live on less than $2.50 a day, with about 1.3 billion living on less than $1.25 a day (extreme poverty). 80% of the world population live on less than $10 a day. One billion children worldwide live in poverty, and 22,000 of them die each day due to poverty.
Excessive accumulation of stuff, regardless of actual value, is one of the classic presentations of the hoarding disorder. People with hoarding disorder excessively save items that others may view as worthless. They have persistent difficulty getting rid of or parting with possessions, leading to clutter that disrupts their ability to use their living or workspaces (American Psychiatric Association, “What is Hoarding Disorder?”).
We brought nothing into this world, and we will depart from it with nothing. Whatever worldly goods we acquire in between they are not really ours to keep but to share with anyone in need brought our way. Nevertheless, there are those who cannot let go, but would rather keep and hoard until they are full to the brim.
Our world is that of sinful cravings and selfish desires. On a daily basis, we wrestle within ourselves against our inner desire to acquire everything that impinges on our senses. What we see and hear we want to own, and what we smell, taste and touch we want to consume. Life for many has become a gluttonous feeding of the inner id. The more we have the more our base urges propel us to want to have. Driven by pure greed, there are those who have sold their soul in exchange for worldly goods. Many have taken to cunning craftiness and shifty subterfuge in order to attain the riches of this world.
Confusing wealth for worth, the desire to be somebody in the eyes of an admiring world has driven many to unthinkable deeds. Inordinate greed has become a socially acceptable human trait. Human worth is weighed on the scale of the preponderance of earthly goods. The life of a man is measured in terms of the abundance of things he possesses. Long forgotten is the wisdom of the sage that says, “For your life to have value, it has to be more valuable than what you possess. For your possession to have value, it has to be more valuable than what you keep.”
Though the rich lord it over the poor and make them slaves, it is the LORD that owns the cattle on a thousand hills. Whereas the world is quick to value people on how much earthly goods they possess, the One who created the heavens and the earth and everything in them is no respecter of persons. In His divine wisdom, he makes some rich and some poor, but one is not greater than the other. In the eyes of their Maker, they are of equal value and equal worth.
As long as the earth remains, the poor will never cease to be in the land. The rich and the poor have one thing in common; the LORD made them both. God made some poor, so that the rich will have an avenue to share their possession, and in the process realize the joy of giving. God made some rich so that the needs of the poor will be supplied, and the generosity of the rich will result in a sacrifice of thanksgiving to the One from whom all blessings flow. As long as there is a need and lack, there will always be an opportunity to give and supply. The one who has is called to open his bowel of compassion to joyfully share with his brother, thankfully give to the needy, and freely distribute to the poor in the land.
It is impossible for any man to carry himself on his own shoulders, for the shoulders are made to carry somebody else. We are our brother’s keeper. We are God’s answers to our somebody’s prayers, and we are the solution to someone else’s problems. Channels of God’s blessings are who we are.
A flowing river is forever fresh, because it is replenished with freshwater at all times. Because there is no outlet in a reservoir, the water quickly becomes putrid and rank. The LORD created us to be a river and not a reservoir. Your life will forever be fresh and you'll want for nothing, if you put on the mantle of a giver; always giving and never lacking. It is in giving that you'll discover true living, and it is in giving that you'll find true meaning. A man who receives is blessed for sure, but the blessedness in giving far exceeds that in receiving. For a man who turns his back on his brother in need is a man who's already dead but doesn’t yet know it.
So, determine today to be a relentless giver, and you’ll forever enjoy the abundance of Jehovah Jireh, the LORD who is our reckless Provider.
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