"Two things I ask of you; deny them not to me before I die: Remove far from me falsehood and lying; give me neither poverty nor riches; feed me with the food that is needful for me, lest I be full and deny you and say, ‘Who is the Lord?' or lest I be poor and steal and profane the name of my God."
So the wisdom of Agur, found in Proverbs 30:7, reminds us. Though sin knows no tax brackets — the poor can be greedy and the rich envious — peculiar circumstances tend to produce peculiar temptations. Agur fears that should God lead him into poverty, he might be tempted to steal and thus profane the name of God. He fears in turn that should God lead him into great riches, he might forget God. He asks God to protect him, through His providence, from both temptations.
Many of us, oddly, are in both categories, at least in some sense. In a culture driven by dissatisfaction, we can all at least feel poor. The Joneses stay always ahead of us, pushing us onward. A rocky economy feeds our economic insecurities, and we are tempted, if not to steal, at least to cut some moral corners. Virtue and integrity can be expensive, and we can always buy them back when better times come. On the other hand, we are not the 99 percent but are in the 99th percentile. That is, by world historical standards, compared to all the people who ever lived on this planet, even if we are among the most poor in America, each of us is in the top one percent in terms of comforts, luxury, ease and wealth. Our poor are wealthier than kings of old.
There is no shame in being poor. There is no guilt in being wealthy. There is, however, shame in stealing and guilt in failing to give thanks.
A God-centered life, then, is not found in feeding a constant craving for more, better, newer. Neither, however, is it found in embracing an ascetic aesthetic, eschewing the good gifts of God. He is the giver of every good gift, both contentment in abasement and a shiny new car. He is not impressed with our piety if we accept the former but turn up our nose at the latter, thinking ourselves too pure for such crass blessings.