By Jim Tune

Madeline Levine had been practicing psychology for more than 25 years when she began to observe a new category of unhappy teenager. As her book The Price of Privilege relates: “America’s newly identified at-risk group is preteens and teens from affluent, well-educated families.” Social and economic advantages notwithstanding, children of affluence “experience among the highest rates of depression, substance abuse, anxiety disorders, somatic complaints, and unhappiness of any group of children in this country.”

MT_Dec23_JNLevine admits to being startled when a bright, socially adept, 15-year-old girl from a loving, wealthy family came into the office with the word empty carved into her left forearm.

Levine suggests that privileged adolescents are experiencing epidemic rates of depression, mental illness, and substance abuse that are higher than any other socioeconomic group of adolescents in America. How can this be? How can wealth, which is viewed by so many as the answer to the world’s problems, become for many a cause of more problems than it solves?

Jesus warned about the dangers of wealth and, in particular, greed. He cautioned a crowd: “Watch out! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; a man’s life does not consist in an abundance of possessions” (Luke 12:15).

In more than 20 years of pastoral ministry, I have listened to confessions of all kinds of sin—adultery, pedophilia, sex addiction, physically abusive behavior, drunkenness, theft, and more—but not one person has ever confessed to having issues with greed. No person has come into my office voicing concern about how they will pass through the eye of the needle.

Money can have a blinding effect. We rarely notice the symptoms of money sickness in ourselves. We all know greed is a huge problem. But we rarely think it is our problem.

How do we know we are at risk of being materialistic? One obvious indicator is our capacity and disposition toward generosity. Giving generously is the antidote to materialism. A recent study revealed that only 10 percent of the typical American congregation tithes a full 10 percent to the church, the poor, and kingdom causes. Relief agencies report if every active churchgoer were to consistently tithe, world hunger, starvation, and death from preventable diseases could be relieved in just a few years. But because 90 percent of Christians refuse to give away wealth in biblical proportions, the world suffers and the church fails to reach its redemptive potential.

As a new year approaches, we have an opportunity to reflect on our budgets, goals, and priorities. I want to be certain that when the Great Physician examines me he does not find the word empty carved into my heart.

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