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Christians and Wealth

The following is my essay on wealth and possessions submitted for Christian Worldview Integration:

Christians and Wealth

  1. Main Claim: American Christians should reduce their standards of living to what is necessary for human flourishing and give their excess resources beyond this standard to the poor and oppressed.
    1. God is the firmest advocate for human flourishing.
    2. The pursuit of wealth is spiritually dangerous and crippling.
    3. Our culture’s inclinations toward upward financial mobility go against the message of the New Testament and the life of Christ.
    4. God is revealed in Scripture to have a special concern for the poor and the oppressed.
    5. Christians will be held accountable for how they treat the poor and the oppressed.
  2. Objections:
    1. This line of reasoning is advocating asceticism and is unbiblical.
    2. Christians have every right to keep what they have earned and to do what they wish with their excess funds.
    3. Because the poor are lazy, Christians should not feel pressured to give, in case their generosity is taken advantage of.
  3. Warrant:
    1. Christians want to remain true to Scripture and submit to God’s way of life in order to find satisfaction.

In our current context of wealth and poverty existing side by side in a milieu of materialistic consumerism, the Christian gospel of denying ourselves and making much of God is being abandoned for the American gospel of denying others and making much of ourselves. American Christians have become content to live a baptized version of the American dream, a hollow faith that is about maximizing your earthly portfolio once your salvation is secured. My main contention is that Christians in the United States should lower their standards of living to what is necessary for human flourishing and give their excess resources beyond this standard to the poor. In doing so, they will remain faithful to Scripture and discover a more satisfactory way of life.

At this point some may claim that I am trying to advocate for a form of asceticism. While my claim might appear that way when viewed through our culture’s thick lens of materialistic consumerism, I believe that I am actually advocating for a more satisfactory way of life. God is revealed in Scripture to be the firmest advocate for human flourishing. That is, he desires what is truly best for his creation and his people. He created everything to be structurally good, and is currently in the process of redeeming the universe from its directional digression away from its intended God-exalting purposes. Things like hunger and poverty are on the chopping block in this redemptive mission. The standard to which everything is being drawn is not an eternally unsatisfying state of Spartan living and ascetic suffering. It is the eternally satisfying and rich state of glorifying God like creation was intended to. I am advocating for a return to standards of living necessary for human flourishing, realizing that this standard will vary greatly from person to person and culture to culture.[1] The problem is that what appears to be the standard of human flourishing to us is often quite damaging.

The Bible pulls no punches in describing the dangers of a materialistic pursuit of wealth. While money is nowhere declared to be intrinsically evil, Scripture makes it clear that we are all sin-stained creatures prone to greed and self-justification, and that an abundance of wealth and possessions makes it very hard to rise above our idolatrous inclinations and serve God well.[2] In addition, although it exceeds the scope of this essay, a strong argument can be made that our society’s pragmatic commitment to “getting ahead” is destroying our ability to experience genuine delight in the small things in life which do not increase our bottom line.[3] Despite our initial reactions, it appears as though what our culture is encouraging us to pursue is actually quite destructive to our ability to serve God well and genuinely enjoy life.

While the culture around us is calling us towards a lifestyle of upward financial mobility, “the emphasis of the New Testament lies not on the acquisition side of things…but on sacrifice and divestiture”.[4] The incarnation of Jesus is a clear example of the kind of God we serve, one who emptied himself of the riches of heaven in order to take on human flesh and demonstrate a fiercely sacrificial obedience that took him all the way to the cross. Although there is a big gap between kenosis and a Christian’s obligation to give to the poor, it nonetheless serves as an example of the kind of living we are called to by the gospel.  At the very least, it is reasonable to say that the life of Jesus the Messiah was an atrocious failure when judged by our society’s standards of materialistic consumerism, and yet as Christians we would all (presumably) confess that we are called to follow his example. Again, keep in mind that we are not all called to live ascetically and to spurn the legitimate pleasures of this life. However, one would be hard pressed to find biblical support for our culture’s view of wealth and success.

At this point we are all tempted to rebuff and claim that we have every right to keep all of what we have “earned” and do as we wish with our excess funds. However, the Bible presents us with the uncomfortable truth that everything we “own” is in fact owned by God and has been given to us to steward well.[5] A prosperous Christian is not an intrinsic oxymoron, and there are examples in Scripture of wealthy people who seem to have genuinely loved God and served him well. However, there is no example of person who selfishly viewed their possessions as their own, lived a lifestyle of extravagant wealth, and honored God by doing so. Even more uncomfortable is the fact that, if God expects us to follow his example in our stewardship of his resources, then we are faced with a strong biblical mandate to give generously to the poor and fight for their justice.

In my own experience, our culture’s stereotype of the poor consigns their condition to laziness. Evangelical Christians seem to use this stereotype to effectively avoid giving generously to the poor under the pretense of good stewardship and not wanting their giving to be taken advantage of by lazy individuals. With regards to being taken advantage of, Christians should perhaps be the most willing people to be taken advantage of in their giving. After all, we frequently take advantage of God’s grace in our own lives, and if he modeled the same attitude to us that we display to the poor, we would be in a sorry state of affairs.[6]

However, the biblical picture of the poor emphasizes their destitution, need, lack of resources, and suffering under oppression.[7] In contrast to our frequently apathetic response, God seems to have a bias to the poor. Karl Barth claimed that “God always takes his stand unconditionally and passionately on this side and this side alone: against the lofty and on behalf of the lowly; against those who enjoy right and privilege and on behalf of those who are denied it and deprived of it”.[8] Consider the biblical account. God intervened to save his people from the oppression and poverty they suffered in at the hands of the Egyptians.[9] He made his frustration at his people’s improper treatment of the impoverished known through the prophets.[10] Jesus the Messiah cited his own mission as one that was inextricably tied to the poor and oppressed.[11] The final judgment will be executed (at least partially so) with regards to the treatment (or mistreatment) of the poor.[12] Scripture makes it abundantly clear that God’s heart is for the impoverished, destitute, and oppressed.

As Christians, we must take seriously the words of our Savior that how we treat “the least of these” has serious import on how we treat and serve Christ himself. We must take the whole witness of Scripture into account and realize that the God we serve and whose resources we steward shows special concern for the poor and oppressed. We must be willing to acknowledge that our culture’s values of materialistic consumerism run against the grain of the gospel of “sacrifice and divestiture,” opening our eyes to the spiritual dangers of pursuing wealth and possessions. Above all, perhaps, we must be willing to eschew the idolatry in our hearts and trust that our Heavenly Father knows what is best for us and desires to see us truly flourish in our sacrifice and generosity. Then, and only then, will we be able to reduce our extravagant standards of living, give to the poor from our excess resources out of genuine generosity, and flourish as human beings by fulfilling our primary purpose: exalting and making much of our Maker.

Bibliography

Sider, Ronald. “God and the Poor.” Sider, Ronald. Rich Christians in an Age of Hunger. Word Publishing, 1997.

—. “Toward a Simpler Lifestyle: The Graduated Tithe and Other Modest Proposals.” Sider, Ronald. Rich Christians in an Age of Hunger. Word Publishing, 1997.

Wirzba, Norman. “The Decline of Delight.” Wirzba, Norman. Living the Sabbath: Discovering the Rhythms of Rest and Delight. Brazos, 2006. 64-75.

Witherington, Ben. “Deprogramming Ourselves from a Lifestyle of Conspicuous Consumption and Self-Gratification.” Witherington, Ben. Jesus and Money: A Guide for Times of Financial Crisis. Brazos, 2010. 153-169.

—. “Ten Christian Myths about Money.” Witherington, Ben. Jesus and Money: A Guide for Times of Financial Crisis. Brazos, 2010. 165-169.

—. “Towards a New Testament Theology of Money, Stewardship, and Giving.” Witherington, Ben. Jesus and Money: A Guide for Times of Financial Crisis. Brazos, 2010. 141-152.


[1] Providing a calculus for ascertaining where this standard lies on an individual basis exceeds the scope of this essay. In general terms, I am advocating for a standard of living that allows people to enjoy life with dignity within their particular context while avoiding extravagant excesses that come at the expense of others.

[2] Witherington, Towards a New Testament Theology of Money, Stewardship, and Giving

[3] Wirzba, The Decline of Delight

[4] Witherington, Deprogramming Ourselves from a Lifestyle of Conspicuous Consumption and Self-Gratification

[5] Witherington, Ten Christian Myths about Money

[6] This same point was said better and more emphatically by Professor John White (Cedarville University) in BEGE-3760 Christian Worldview Integration.

[7] Cf. personal research done from The Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament and Wealth and Poverty in Proverbs (R.N. Whybray) for a separate paper.

[8] Barth, Church Dogmatics II/1 (T.&T. Clark, 1957), p. 387

[9] cf. Exodus 3:7-9

[10] cf. Isaiah 10:1-3; Jeremiah 5:26-29; 7:5-7; Amos 2:7; 4:1; 5:10-15; 6:4-7; Micah 2:2

[11] cf. Luke 4:16-21

[12] cf. Matthew 25:31-46

What Does the Bible Say about Poverty? – The Book of Proverbs

In contrast to the affluence of mainstream American culture, poverty is a harsh and painful reality. It can be found in abundance in the urban centers of this country, and in countless other places around the globe.

Modern day slavery “more cruel than any beast of prey” (Wright 2005, 136), it traps human beings created in the image of God in a lifestyle of hunger, sickness, anger, and darkness.

However, one can effortlessly go through daily life in middle class America without giving much thought or care to the billions of people living in poverty worldwide. Furthermore, one can even profess faith in Jesus Christ and regularly attend an average evangelical church in the United States without being prompted to pay the poor, underprivileged, and oppressed of this world any mind.

In this milieu of wealth and poverty existing side by side in an atmosphere of confusion and apathy, the book of Proverbs provides relevant insights into the nature of poverty, the nature of Yahweh, and how his people should respond to it.

Descriptions of Poverty: Effects and Causes

Many proverbs are devoted to describing the harsh realities of poverty, showing that the Hebrew sages were well aware of its existence and characteristics.

Effects

These proverbs frequently describe the poor in direct contrast to the wealthy. Consider Proverbs 10:15:

“A rich man’s wealth is in his strong city; the poverty of the poor is their ruin.”

The force of the antithetical parallelism of this verse is hard to overlook. Whybray explains that the main point “is that wealth protects the rich from the vicissitudes of life, while the poor, having no resources to fall back on, are easily vulnerable to total disaster” (1994, 165).

The word used for “poor” here is dal. While Whybray states that this word is synonymous with the other Hebrew terms for “poor” (˓ānı̂, ˒ebyôn, and rāš)in Proverbs (1994, 165), The Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament (TWOT) differentiates dal from the other three, saying that “unlike ˓ānı̂, dal does not emphasize pain or oppression; unlike ˒ebyôn, it does not primarily emphasize need, and unlike rāš, it represents those who lack rather than the destitute.” Dal refers to the lack of both material and social resources (Harris, et al. 1999).

This lack of social resources can be seen in the proverbs that describe how poverty affects relationships. Proverbs 14:20 says that

“The poor is disliked even by his neighbor, but the rich has many friends.”

This same theme is reiterated in chapter 19:

“Wealth brings many new friends, but a poor man is deserted by his friend” (19:4).

Expanded across two verses, it reads:

“Many seek the favor of a generous man, and everyone is a friend to a man who gives gifts. All a poor man’s brothers hate him; how much more do his friends go far from him!” (19:6-7a).

These three proverbs contrast the social standings of the wealthy and the impoverished. Alden’s comment on 14:20 is apt when he says that “the unfortunate truth [is] that greed is a more compelling trait than generosity; people are more eager to have rich friends than poor ones” (1983, 114).

Proverbs 19:6-7a expands upon this, describing how people are naturally drawn to relationships that give them material benefit. It is rare, however, to find people who are drawn to relationships that would cost them materially. Even a poor man’s family members “hate him”!

Bridges says it well:

“As the winter brooks, filled from the opening springs and the torrents from heaven, are dried up and vanish before the summer heat; so these friends of the poor go far from him, cold, distant, and vanishing in the day of his calamity” (1987, cf. 1846, 312).

Materially and socially, poverty wreaks havoc on the lives of those it entraps.

Causes

Given the terrible effects and characteristics of poverty, Proverbs naturally contains many admonitions to avoid its causes.

Causes of poverty listed in Proverbs include (but are not limited to):

  • a “slack hand” (laziness) (10:4),
  • ignorance of instruction (13:18),
  • endless talk (without toil/labor) (14:23),
  • hastiness (21:15),
  • the love of pleasure (21:17),
  • drunkenness and gluttony (23:21),
  • worthless pursuits (28:19),
  • and stinginess (28:22).

Of particular interest is the repetition of the warning against excessive slumber if one is to avoid poverty (6:10-11; 20:13; 23:21; 24:33-34).

Proverbs 6:10-11 and 24:33-34 include the almost verbatim admonition:

“A little sleep, a little slumber, a little folding of the hands to rest, and poverty will come upon you like a robber, and want like an armed man.”

Sleep (as compared with labor) might give the initial benefits of rest and relaxation, but when developed into an excessive habit, it can have disastrous consequences.

John Chrysostom comments upon 6:11:

“Is work at first difficult? Then look to its results. Is idleness sweet? Then consider what comes out of it in the end. So let us look not at the beginning of things, but let us also see where they end up” (Wright 2005, 50).

This approach perhaps summarizes most of the practical warnings in Proverbs about avoiding poverty. What initially seems like the easiest and most comfortable choice will rarely, if ever, lead to success.

Set apart from the practical warnings of avoiding poverty, however, is Proverbs 22:16:

“Whoever oppresses the poor to increase his own wealth, or gives to the rich, will only come to poverty.”

The verb “oppress” here is the term ˓ā∙šǎq, meaning “mistreat, i.e., treat a disadvantaged member of society unjustly with the effect of causing one to suffer ill-treatment” (Swanson 1997).

Although the Hebrew of this verse is quite difficult and there is little concurrence among commentators as to its proper interpretation (Whybray 1994, 322-323), the sense of it seems to be that the end result of oppressing the impoverished for material gain is only further poverty.

Proverbs 30:14 comes to mind:

“There are those whose teeth are swords, whose fangs are knives, to devour the poor from off the earth, the needy from among mankind.”

These verses make the transition from descriptions of poverty to responses to its existence, highlighting the uncomfortable truth that improper treatment of the poor can bring disaster.

Responses to Poverty: Yahweh and the Poor

It is clear that Proverbs gives its readers a thorough understanding of the dreadfulness of poverty and the importance of avoiding it.

However, this understanding does little to inform the audience of how we should respond to the existence of poverty.

The surest foundation for a proper response to poverty is undoubtedly the character of Yahweh with regards to the oppressed and impoverished.

Consider Proverbs 14:31:

“Whoever oppresses a poor man insults his Maker, but he who is generous to the needy honors him.”

The first line of this proverb is echoed in 17:5a, and the second (seemingly unrelated) line of 17:5, “he who is glad at calamity will not go unpunished,” has been taken by some commentators to refer to those who rejoice over not just calamity in general, but specifically the ruin of the poor (Whybray 1994, 255 and Clifford 1999, 164).

If this is the case, then these two proverbs taken together make the same point with both a positive promise and a negative warning. Clifford states the main point particularly well:

“The dignity of each human being comes from being created by God. Contempt towards anyone insults the person’s maker. The example of the poor person, the type perhaps least likely to gain respect, is used to dramatize the point. Every human being, irrespective of wealth, is worthy of respect” (1999, 164).

The same point is made in Proverbs 22:2, which states:

“The rich and the poor meet together; the Lord is the maker of them all,”

and also in 29:13:

“The poor man and the oppressor meet together; the Lord gives light to the eyes of both.”

Our treatment of the poor needs to be based upon the fact that they have been made in the image of Yahweh and are therefore worthy of dignity and respect. To deny them the treatment that each and every human being deserves is not just stinginess, it is an insult and an offense to the Creator.

However, Proverbs goes further than appeals to imago Dei in its teachings about our treatment of the poor.

Atkinson says it well:

“The oppression of the poor is both a violation of someone who should be respected because he or she bears the image of the Creator, and also an attitude which does not reflect the character of the Creator, who is himself on the side of the poor” (1996, 111).

Proverbs 22:22-23 delivers a stunningly vivid warning:

“Do not rob the poor, because he is poor, or crush the afflicted at the gate, for the LORD will plead their cause and rob of life those who rob them.”

The reader is told to not take justice from the poor because they have the LORD as their defender at the gate (the site of legal proceedings). “The poor, by not having human protectors, have Yahweh as their protector. Paradoxically, their poverty gives them a more powerful protector than the rich could afford” (Clifford 1999, 207).

This gives a glimpse into a thematic truth of Scripture that has been called God’s “bias to the poor.” Atkinson quotes Karl Barth to further explain:

“The human righteousness required by God and established in obedience – the righteousness which according to Amos 5:24 should pour down as a mighty stream – has necessarily the character of a vindication of right in favour of the threatened innocent, the oppressed poor, widows, orphans, and aliens.

For this reason, in the relations and events in the life of his people, God always takes his stand unconditionally and passionately on this side and this side alone: against the lofty and on behalf of the lowly; against those who enjoy right and privilege and on behalf of those who are denied it and deprived of it” (1996, 111-112, cf. Barth, Church Dogmatics II/1 [T.&T. Clark, 1957], p. 387)

God’s heart for and even bias toward the poor extends well beyond the book of Proverbs. If one pays close attention, it is readily apparent that Scripture is saturated with it.

  • Yahweh intervened to save his people from the oppression and poverty they suffered in at the hands of the Egyptians (cf. Exodus 3:7-9).
  • He made his frustration at his people’s improper treatment and distortion of the impoverished and the needy known through the prophets (cf. Isaiah 10:1-3; Jeremiah 5:26-29; 7:5-7; Amos 2:7; 4:1; 5:10-15; 6:4-7; Micah 2:2).
  • Jesus the Messiah cited his own mission as one that was inextricably tied to the poor and oppressed (cf. Luke 4:16-21).
  • The final judgment will be executed (at least partially so) with regards to the treatment (or mistreatment) of the poor and the needy (cf. Matthew 25:31-46).

Scripture makes it abundantly clear that God’s heart is for the impoverished, destitute, and oppressed.

It is important to establish this truth well in order to rightly proceed in our actions and attitudes toward the poor and the oppressed. This is because it is entirely too easy to think of God’s actions and attitudes as being most closely aligned with people who are just like us.

However, for the vast majority of Christians in the United States who live life in relatively extravagant comfort and ease, it comes as somewhat of a shock that God’s bias might actually be against us if we do not take this issue seriously!

Proverbs reflects that what is at stake here is much more than just our consciences, the minor twangs of guilt or moments of self-righteousness we too often experience in our infrequent interactions with the poor.

Responses to Poverty: Consequences and Rewards

The teachings in Proverbs regarding the treatment of the poor can be divided into three categories:

  1. those that display negative consequences for improper treatment,
  2. those that display positive rewards for proper treatment,
  3. and those that juxtapose the two.

Negative Consequences

Proverbs 21:13 states:

“Whoever closes his ears to the cry of the poor will himself call out and not be answered.”

The frightening reciprocity of this verse hits hard when, in our culture, we are too often distracted by other things which are “more important” than attending to the needs of the poor. When we find ourselves in a moment of dire need, how can we expect to be answered if we have not answered the needy when we were able to do so?

Another warning against mistreating the poor that includes a form of retribution against the offender is Proverbs 28:8:

“Whoever multiplies his wealth by interest and profit gathers is for him who is generous to the poor.”

Whybray claims that the word for “interest” refers to “interest which was levied by deduction from the original loan but which had to be repaid in full,” and that “profit” refers to “an additional charge levied on repayment” (1994, 391).

The point is that money taken from the poor will not do its wicked owner any good, and has the potential to end up in the hands of righteous men which will in turn help to meet the needs of the poor.

Positive  Rewards

In addition, Proverbs contains several verses that positively portray, and thereby encourage, generosity towards the poor and preservation of their justice.

Consider Proverbs 19:17:

“Whoever is generous to the poor lends to the Lord, and he will repay him for his deed.”

This proverb promises a reward to those who treat the poor with generosity. However, the main point is not to treat them with benevolence out of desire for a reward.

Whybray captures the point well:

“there is no idea here of a quid pro quo: no intention to encourage generosity simply for the reward which it will bring. The underlying thought is that generosity is characteristic of a person who is righteous; and the proverb reflects the basic belief that righteousness is, and ought to be, materially rewarded” (1994, 282).

A virtually identical point is made in Proverbs 22:9:

“Whoever has a bountiful eye will be blessed, for he shares his bread with the poor.”

Furthermore, the well-known wise woman discussed in chapter 31 “opens her hand to the poor and reaches out her hands to the needy” (31:20). Giving generously to the poor is a mark of a righteous person, one whose life will be blessed by Yahweh.

Combinations

Finally, some proverbs combine the negative and positive aspects of the previously mentioned verses through antithetical parallelism.

A prime example is Proverbs 14:21:

“Whoever despises his neighbor is a sinner, but blessed is he who is generous to the poor.”

This verse highlights the benefits of generosity against the backdrop of the consequences of scorning one’s neighbor.

In a similar fashion, Proverbs 28:27 says that

“whoever gives to the poor will not want, but he who hides his eyes will get many a curse.”

Whether or not the curses come from the poor who have been denied assistance, or from Yahweh himself, the point remains that there are rewards in caring for the impoverished and consequences for not doing so.

In addition to generosity, however, the Hebrew sages also expressed concern for the justice of the poor.

Proverbs 29:7 makes it clear that

“a righteous man knows the rights of the poor; a wicked man does not understand such knowledge.”

The importance of justice for the poor is also stated later in the chapter in verse 14:

“If a king faithfully judges the poor, his throne will be established forever.”

Given Yahweh’s “bias” toward the poor and their status as his image bearers, it would do one well to be concerned with their legal rights.

It is not enough to simply not oppress the poor. Proverbs, along with the rest of Scripture, seems to mandate advocating for their justice.

Conclusion

In our current context of extravagant wealth and abject poverty existing side by side in a realm of confusion, apathy, and even malice towards the impoverished, Proverbs contains some timely and powerful teaching.

The Hebrew sages had a firm grasp on both the tempting causes and terrible effects of poverty. They therefore put a strong emphasis on avoiding it at all costs through diligence and hard work.

However, this did not lead them to abandon a proper view towards the poor, and they grounded all of their teachings about the proper treatment of the poor in the unchanging and perfect character of Yahweh, who is firmly committed to their protection and justice.

The modern readers of this ancient book would do well to heed its teachings regarding poverty, and to proceed with attitudes and actions in imitation of Yahweh in their interactions with and opinions of the poor, destitute, and oppressed of this world.

Bibliography

Alden, Robert L. Proverbs: A Commentary on an Ancient Book of Timeless Advice. Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1983.

Atkinson, David. The Message of Proverbs: Wisdom for life. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1996.

Bridges, Charles. A Commentary on Proverbs. Southampton: The Camelot Press Ltd., 1987, cf. 1846.

Clifford, Richard J. Proverbs: A Commentary. Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 1999.

Estes, Daniel J. Handbook on the Wisdom Books and Psalms. Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2005.

Harris, R. Laird, Robert Laird Harris, Gleason Leonard Archer, and Bruce K. Waltke. Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament. (electronic ed.). Chicago: Moody Press, 1999.

Swanson, James. Dictionary of Biblical Languages With Semantic Domains: Hebrew (Old Testament). (electronic ed.). Logos Research Systems, Inc. . Oak Harbor, 1997.

Whybray, R. N. New Century Bible Commentary: Proverbs. Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Co. , 1994.

Wright, J. Robert, ed. Ancient Commentary on Scripture: Proverbs, Ecclesiates, Song of Solomon. Downers Grove, Illinois: InterVarsity Press, 2005.

"A Valediction…"

Pastor Crawford, Mr. Flamm, Mr. Luring,
Members of the School Committee,
Mr. Barrows, Faculty,
Parents, Guests,
and Members of the Class of 2009…

GRADUATION!
Such a mix of emotions comes with this simple word…

Students are exhilarated to finally be done with yet another chapter of their lives.
Parents are also excited, yet saddened perhaps by the fact that their little babies are now about to embark into the real world.
Faculty are relieved to get such a motley group of troublemakers out of their school!
Guests are happy to watch it all come together in one orchestrated ceremony,
which is customarily concluded by a farewell address from the graduating valedictorian,
A poor individual who must say goodbye
while also addressing all parties and emotions involved,
all within the space of a short speech.

Fortunately, Mrs. Covrett, my English teacher, taught me that poetry is the language of both emotion and economy.

Earlier this year, amidst the trials and tribulations of AP English Literature and Composition, we read a poem entitled “A Valediction Forbidding Mourning.”
This poem, written by John Donne about a love that transcends physical separation between him and his beloved, inspired me to compose my own work in the interests of avoiding both triteness and plagiarism on this most auspicious occasion.

John Donne forbade his beloved from openly mourning his departure. While I do not think it fitting for me to forbid anyone anything, please indulge me a few moments of your time as we look both back at the past and ahead into the future by way of my poem, entitled:

“A VALEDICTION”
by: Joshua P. Steele

The years, a road before us
This school, the path behind
And who can know what lies ahead?
The twists and turns we’ll find

Our time, it passes swiftly,
This life will soon be gone
When we look back upon our days,
What is it we’ll have done?

The world has many pleasures
its riches and its fame
Yet none of these are lasting treasures
for all face death the same

We’ve all one life to use now,
Our time will soon be past
And though this world will pass away,
What’s done for Christ will last.

For years, we’ve learned and grown here,
a foundation has been laid.
The future looms before us now,
a choice has to be made:

To waste our lives upon ourselves?
To build on sinking sand?
Or found ourselves upon the Rock,
Who holds us in His hands?

The choice may seem quite simple now,
as though the battle’s won,
but day by day, the world cries out
“Don’t fret! Go play! Have fun!”

Our lives will have their share of joy,
Good gifts from God each day.
But don’t be fooled, there’s pain as well
There’s bumps along our way.
Should we be scared? Can we succeed?
Is there hope amidst the fear?
Will we press on? or stop to heed
those voices in our ear:

“Turn back! This way is difficult!
It’s much too hard for you!
Too frightening, there’s no comfort there,
You’ll never make it through!”

Don’t stop! Press on! For don’t we know?
and have not we been told?
It’s only through the fire
You obtain the purest gold.

We have a God in Heaven
A Father and a Guide
He gives the strength to carry on
To those who would reside

in Him. we find our purpose
In Him we find the way
to live our lives unwasted
,to boldly face each day.

For He alone knows how much time
we have to walk the road
And He alone knows every trial,
The weight of each our loads

Though high school is now over
We’ve so much more to do!
The door has been flung-open,
and now we must walk through–

We’ll miss the loving people here
Who’ve helped us on our way.
Though time and distance come between,
Our thankfulness won’t fade.

So, Mom and Dad, we thank you for
The time and love you give.
You’ve been there through our best and worst
To show us how to live.

Our teachers, better mentors
We would be hard-pressed to find.
They’ve taught us both to seek the Truth
And always guard our minds.

So many more deserve our thanks,
Yet words cannot convey
The boundless debt of gratitude
That we should rightly pay.

And now we say “farewell”
“Goodbye,” as we depart.
One journey ends, another’s here
on which we must embark.

"Letter from a Grateful Son"

by:  me 🙂

Thank you, Mom, for having me
that day so long ago.
Thank you, then, for holding me
and now for letting go.
Thank you, Mom for giving me
your patience, time, and care.
And thank you, Mom, for loving me
for always being there –

Thanks so much for teaching me
both how to read and write.
For every single grueling day
and every sleepless night.
Thank you, Mom, for aiming high,
for helping me succeed.
For never letting me forget
that you believe in me.

Mom, you mean so much to me.
My words cannot convey
The debt of love, of care-filled work
That I should rightly pay.
Though distance, time, and life itself
may take me far away,
I’ll always be your little boy
with these three words to say –

“I love you.”