Every now and then I watch “Cops” on TV. While watching a recent gripping episode where city police officers had to deal with yet another unruly pair of meth addicts who committed numerous petty thefts and assorted crimes of distasteful vice, I realized that we as a nation spend billions of dollars for police services in order for street cops to deal with (how can I say this politely?) the dregs of society. And yet crime on Wall Street, and within banks and corporations across the land, gets nary any attention. Granted, watching a Wall Street broker illegally churn millions for fees from his unsuspecting clients is not nearly as entertaining as watching Las Vegas police officers wrestle a transvestite prostitute to the ground and place him/her in handcuffs. But it would be more satisfying to watch the police wrestle a Wall Street banker to the ground and zap him with the Taser; think of the TV ratings THAT would generate. And yes I know all Wall Street bankers are not corrupt . . . yet.
Most of us can probably protect ourselves against meth addicts who would commit petty crimes in our neighborhoods. It’s the Wall Street bankers in faraway offices that activate the flight or fight mechanism in the so-called reptilian part of my brain. Sure, I know the FBI and FTC (Federal Trade Commission) are there to protect American consumers, but their budgets pale in comparison to the budgets of city, county, and state police who spend most of their time interacting with the dregs. Maybe our entire criminal justice system needs restructuring so that the lion’s share of our criminal justice resources are shifted away from dealing with meth addicts and the petty crimes they commit and towards Wall Street and the grandiose crimes they commit. When Wall Street is morally compromised, it can threaten the very economic fabric of our entire society. Of course Wall Street and corporate America have lobbyists and spouses in high places in Washington. Meth addicts, not so much.
There comes a point in every nation where God no longer ignores the sins of his people, including their economic sins. The prophet Amos and Micah tried to warn the ancient people of Israel about this truth, but they did not listen. Here is one such warning from God in Micah 6:11:
“Shall I acquit someone with dishonest scales,
with a bag of false weights?”
Israel had experienced the rise of a wealthy upper class (sound familiar?), yet this brought intolerable corruption (yep, very familiar). The people of Israel thought great wealth was a sign of God’s blessing. In reality, God had reached the point of no return for their idolatry, property crimes, failed civil leadership, failed religious leadership, corrupt business practices, violence, and their belief that personal sacrifice satisfies divine justice. What was Israel’s sentence? The nation of Israel was dismantled and the people were scattered around the world. I do not know if America will suffer a similar fate, but we may well face divine judgment because our sins look eerily similar to those of ancient Israel. What that judgment will look like, I don’t know.
What can the average Christian do if God’s judgment comes to America? We can’t do much about corruption in high places, but on a personal level we can pray that we are part of his faithful remnant that endures and that we are found blameless. We would also do well to examine how we conduct ourselves in our spheres of influence within our communities. In other words, are there any unbalanced scales in our dealings with other people? If so, we need to replace our unbalanced scales with righteousness and integrity.
The Wolf of Wall Street, starring Leonardo Dicaprio, should have been called the Weasel of Wall Street (though PETA might not appreciate the defamation of weasels). In the interest of full disclosure, I have not seen the movie. But I do know a film enthusiast who saw the movie. She told me the movie overflows with debauchery that pushes the boundary of its R rating in the areas of language, substance abuse, and pornography. In other words, it’s a 5 star flick by Hollywood standards.
The movie is based on a true story in which Dicaprio plays Jordan Belfort, a stock broker who was eventually convicted of fraud for stock market manipulation. Prior to his conviction, Belfort lived a life of unfettered self-indulgence via avarice, prostitutes, substance abuse, materialism, and partying. Basically, Belfort was a sophisticated thief with big appetites. How much of Belfort’s story of debauchery is true and how much is exaggeration remains a matter or speculation.
In a way, Belfort’s story reminds me of the Teacher in the Book of Ecclesiastes. The Teacher tried wine, pleasure, work projects, wealth, and folly in an effort to discover something of value to counter the pointlessness of life. One apparent difference between the Teacher and Belfort is that the Teacher sought wisdom. Who knows what need Belfort tried to fulfill in the depths of his soul. Sadly, there were unpleasant consequences for Belfort, though I’m sure his victims would argue they suffered some unpleasant consequences, as well. The loss of investor money can cause a great deal of emotional pain to innocent victims. In a way, I suppose the title “Wolf” is appropriate for Belfort (perhaps he’s more like a cross between a wolf and a weasel). Wolves prey on others. Tragically, our culture often treats theft as a crime less reprehensible than it deserves. The Bible calls Satan himself a thief who comes to “steal, kill, and destroy.” Thievery is more serious and has worse consequences than we often realize. But I digress.
The Teacher in Ecclesiastes discovered that “God gives wisdom, knowledge, and joy to those who please God.” He also learned God’s gift: “that all people should eat, drink, and enjoy the results of their hard work.” After all his searching and trying different experiences, the Teacher concludes that the best way to live is to worship God and keep His commandments. I wonder if Belfort ever came to the same conclusion. If not, he hasn’t learned much of value, yet.