I finished reading Uncle’s Dream by Fyodor Dostoyevsky. The gist of the book is that the protagonist of the novel, Maria Alexandrovna, is trying to manipulate an old, mentally ill prince into marrying her daughter so that they can have his money. Meanwhile, Maria’s social rivals and another suitor for her daughter have plans of their own that Maria must thwart. But Maria is clever and eloquent, the leading gossip and best at controlling conversation in her small village. She manages to talk herself out of all kinds of predicaments. Overall I found the book readable, but as a comedy it was lacking. The descriptions can get dense and the action moves slowly compared to other comedies. On the plus side, the characters are fleshed out and motives explained in such detail that all their crazy antics are completely believable. The main character, Maria, is dislikable, and yet the reader still roots for her because of the sheer audacity of her schemes. And unlike other Dostoyevsky novels, the characters do not repent and find redemption. After Maria’s scheme is foiled and she and her family must leave the village in total humiliation, we see in the epilogue that another of their marriage schemes succeeded and they get exactly what they want— riches and social status.
As a segue from that, I heard a sermon on 1 Timothy 6 about how the desire for money corrupts people. From now on, I’m going to write down what I remember so that I don’t forget.
3 If anyone teaches otherwise and does not agree to the sound instruction of our Lord Jesus Christ and to godly teaching, 4 they are conceited and understand nothing. They have an unhealthy interest in controversies and quarrels about words that result in envy, strife, malicious talk, evil suspicions 5 and constant friction between people of corrupt mind, who have been robbed of the truth and who think that godliness is a means to financial gain.
6 But godliness with contentment is great gain. 7 For we brought nothing into the world, and we can take nothing out of it. 8 But if we have food and clothing, we will be content with that. 9 Those who want to get rich fall into temptation and a trap and into many foolish and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction. 10 For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil. Some people, eager for money, have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs.
(6) Be content in God. There is no one more worthy of praise than God, who is infinitely merciful and loving. There is nothing in the world that can bring more contentment than God.
As stated in the parables of the hidden treasure and the pearl (Matthew 13:44-46), there is no greater treasure than the kingdom of God. In the parables, the people are willing to give up everything for something of true value.
Related to what is gain and what is not, there’s the verse from 1 Corinthians 13:
If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. 2 If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. 3 If I give all I possess to the poor and give over my body to hardship that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing.
A person can go to such extremes as to be a martyr, but their actions are meaningless and they will gain nothing unless they love God.
(7) Whatever wealth I save up, after my death it will be meaningless to me since I can no longer use it.
(8) In terms of material goods, God has provided me with all the necessities— food, clothing, shelter— and more. And of far greater value than anything material, God has given me salvation.
(9) Being rich is not a bad thing, and the Bible mentions many people who used their wealth to aid the church. However, wanting to get rich is bad. Wanting to get rich will cause people to “fall into temptation”. Not “maybe fall into temptation”. Falling into temptation is a definite consequence. On the other hand, the warning against desiring money is not license to be lazy, as the Bible says to work hard and devote my labor to God.
(10) If someone loves money then they have set up money as an idol. But as Matthew 6:24 says, “No one can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money.” The love of money is not a singular evil; it leads to other evils. Imagine a diseased tree, of which love of money is the root. But what is seen above ground? When I see a tree, I see the trunk and branches are quite substantial in relation to the roots. These branches, these additional and substantially-sized evils, are nourished by the love of money.
A particular danger the pastor mentioned was feelings of independence from God and others, that I deserve and earned my possessions through hard work and don’t need God’s provision, creating distance in our relationship. On the contrary, we should depend on God for all things and ask God for help.