When I was younger I always wished to be invisible at a Georgian-era ballroom dance, jotting down sights and smells in run-on sentences in a plain black notebook, soaking in the satins and chandeliers and uncommonly bright colours, sneaking the pastries off tables and only watching, eating and watching, enjoying the chocolate, but always somewhat uncomfortable with the ostentatious displays of wealth. Recruiting season for management consulting was like that: full of hotel ballrooms and mango-flavoured water and herbed breads, bite-sized beef wellingtons and immaculate presentations, bright lights and promises of wealth. It was close to my idea of an eighteenth century ball, but I’d become comfortable with the money of the thing. Instead of taking my plain black notebook to the dance, I brought it for case interviews.
Most Harvard freshmen come in wanting to learn everything and change the world, not join Wall Street. But as the years go on, recruiting becomes enticing – the money! The opportunities for intellectual growth! The smart people! – and most of all, easy. The Office of Career Services and companies set you up for structured interviews only a short walk from your dorm. You realize you have upperclassman friends at McKinsey, Google, and Goldman Sachs. You realize that consulting actually sounds really interesting! And lucrative! Or at least instrumental to a future career in, well, anything.
So what does any of this have to do with Christianity?
Most people know that “the love of money is the root of all kinds of evil” (1 Tim. 6:10), but the Apostle Paul’s lesser-known direction to Timothy directly afterwards is both insightful and lovely:
“As for the rich in this present age, charge them not to be haughty, nor to set their hopes on the uncertainty of riches, but on God, who richly provides us with everything to enjoy. They are to do good, to be rich in good works, to be generous and ready to share, thus storing up treasure for themselves as a good foundation for the future, so that they may take hold of that which is truly life.” (1 Timothy 6:17-19)
This passage’s themes are particularly relevant to Harvard students going into finance, management consulting, technology, and other lucrative fields. First, it’s not wrong in itself to be rich (Paul expects that Timothy will encounter rich Christians who can and should trust God!), but there are dire pitfalls associated with money. This idea permeates both the Bible and human history. Jesus says, “It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of the needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God” (Matt. 19:24). Thousands of wars throughout history have been fought over riches. Wealth easily leads to haughtiness and the feeling of invincibility.
Second, Paul provides specific ways for the rich to follow the greatest commandments to “‘love the Lord your God’ […] and ‘love your neighbor as yourself’” (Mark 12:30-31). If you’re rich, it’s easy to trust in and to love money over God. But as Paul says, money is uncertain. It can lose its value in an instant through a market crash or hyperinflation, and even if we create the most foolproof financial safety nets on earth, we all must die. Sumptuous food and expensive cars will do nothing to defeat death or cause true joy, but Christ has. We can only trust in God to provide, and it is in heaven we should put our hearts, “where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal” (Matt 6:20).
Paul also admonishes the rich (and everyone) to “do good, to be rich in good works, to be generous and ready to share.” Christians going into the above-mentioned fields can absolutely live and save and thrive on less than half their salaries. In a world where children die of malnutrition and easily-treatable diseases, in a country in which people struggle to afford basic healthcare, those going into lucrative careers should always be thinking about how to use our money to serve God and others. While it’s important to make sure your company isn’t doing awful things and that you aren’t steamrolling people for jobs or promotions, most of us will do jobs that are neither moral or immoral. To honor God in these jobs, Christians need to treat everyone well day-to-day, and live generously.
Finally, no one should become too comfortable. We were never meant to be comfortable in this world. I only liked the thought of eighteenth-century balls because I knew they could not be – that compared to my expectations, an actual ball would be as dust. And that was correct, and that was what I think I lost during recruiting. That which is truly life, which is home, is unlike anything we can imagine. Some of my favourite verses of the Bible are in the last chapter, where in the new heavens and new earth, “the tree of life stands with its twelve kinds of fruit, yielding its fruit each month. [And] the leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations” (Rev. 22: 2). There will be no tears, no poverty, no depression, no starvation, and the light will be more beautiful than that of the grandest ballroom, because we will be in the presence of God.
I would like to end with a reminder that it’s not only people who have done recruiting who are rich, and to whom Paul’s advice applies. It was disturbing how quickly I became comfortable with ostentatious displays of wealth during consulting recruiting, and I began to think how this had manifested at Harvard as well. In most peoples’ lives, there is no one making all their food, or Steinway pianos in every dorm, or fine wine and cheese events every week. We were meant to enjoy the world – the world renewed is a place not where no one enjoys mango-flavoured water – or water in general – but where everyone can. But the world is not this way. Until then, Christians should trust and wait and serve and give generously, seeking not things that are on earth, but “the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God” (Colossians 3:1-2).
S.M. is a senior who would like to be employed one day, and so wishes to maintain a level of anonymity.