My first reaction to the “Giving Pledge” by Warren Buffett and Bill and Melinda Gates was mixed. On the one hand, I was encouraged to see so many who had spent their lives accumulating wealth, power and influence making pledges to give the majority of their assets to philanthropy in their lifetime.
I don’t know if it was a reaction to the wild media response or the sheer flamboyance of the venture that gave me qualms. Probably, there is just something in me that distrusts those blowing loud trumpets about giving.
I decided to read the letters of those who pledged and not make judgments based on my own sensitivities. There are extraordinary stories of commitment, sacrifice, service and honest intentions to do good in those letters. Many of them are inspiring, and we would be well-served to follow the same exercise ourselves. For a number, it was the first time they had seriously reflected on their giving. For others, they had been planning for years to make this step and had simply joined to encourage others to do the same. For some, the motivation was closer to achieving immortality than philanthropy but for many others it was a serious and commendable desire to “give back” to a world that had rewarded them richly.
The more I read, I felt a growing sadness around their common discovery that there were only so many cars, houses and pleasures money could buy. Many had come to philanthropy as a final place to search for satisfaction. As well, many of the letters were filled with echoes of Warren Buffett’s conclusion that “fate’s distribution of long straws is wildly capricious” and their advantage, ultimately, was a mixture of luck and winning the “ovarian lottery.”
That’s not our best hope as believers, is it? It is not what we desire to say at the end of our lives, is it? We don’t come to giving as a last resort to find meaning or to fix the imbalance of the ovarian lottery.
Instead, we come to giving out of gratitude for a God who has loved us intentionally and from all eternity. We come out of joy in response to a promise.
God gives a man riches, property, and wealth so that he lacks nothing that his heart desires, yet God does not enable him to enjoy the fruit of his labor – instead, someone else enjoys it! Ecclesiastes 6:2