Last Sunday, the German newspaper Süddeutsche Zeitung broke the story dubbed the “Panama Papers,” a leak of more than 11 million documents connecting numerous world leaders to Mossack Fonseca, a Panamanian law firm that creates shell companies in order to hide large sums of money for some of the world’s wealthiest people. In some cases billions of dollars.
The “offshore companies” created by Mossack Fonseca are considered legal, but the leak has put world leaders on edge. Why? Because often these arrangements help clients avoid taxes that could otherwise be invested back into their countries. As well, known criminals and Mafia groups are among those with relationships to Mossack Fonseca. Not great company for the world’s leaders.
Among those implicated by the Panama Papers have been Britain’s Prime Minister David Cameron, people with close ties to Russia’s President Vladimir Putin, relatives of China’s President Xi Jinping, and the now-former Prime Minister of Iceland Sigmundur David Gunnlaugsson. Citizens are calling for greater transparency regarding their wealth and taxes, and in some cases, for their resignations.
“Offshore accounts.” “Shell companies.” “Tax evasion.” These suspicious arrangements for hiding money sound complex and high-tech, and unraveling the web of documents and tracing the money to its owners is both immense and intricate. But God already knows who these trails lead to, and the Bible is no stranger to these extensive networks of deception.
The prophet Habakkuk encountered the same kinds of devious activity in his day, and God promised that the arrogant rich would be called to account, just as the Panama Papers are doing today. Centuries later, the Apostle Paul would encourage his protégé Timothy to stockpile riches that would be a true treasure trove forever.
“Look at that man, bloated by self-importance—
full of himself but soul-empty.
But the person in right standing before God
through loyal and steady believing
is fully alive, really alive.
“Note well: Money deceives.
The arrogant rich don’t last.
They are more hungry for wealth
than the grave is for cadavers.
Like death, they always want more,
but the ‘more’ they get is dead bodies.
They are cemeteries filled with dead nations,
graveyards filled with corpses.
Don’t give people like this a second thought.
Soon the whole world will be taunting them:
“‘Who do you think you are—
getting rich by stealing and extortion?
How long do you think
you can get away with this?’
Indeed, how long before your victims wake up,
stand up and make you the victim?
You’ve plundered nation after nation.
Now you’ll get a taste of your own medicine.
All the survivors are out to plunder you,
a payback for all your murders and massacres.
“Who do you think you are—
recklessly grabbing and looting,
Living it up, acting like king of the mountain,
acting above it all, above trials and troubles?
You’ve engineered the ruin of your own house.
In ruining others you’ve ruined yourself.
You’ve undermined your foundations,
rotted out your own soul.
The bricks of your house will speak up and accuse you.
The woodwork will step forward with evidence.”
1 Timothy 6:6-12, 17-19
A devout life does bring wealth, but it’s the rich simplicity of being yourself before God. Since we entered the world penniless and will leave it penniless, if we have bread on the table and shoes on our feet, that’s enough.
But if it’s only money these leaders are after, they’ll self-destruct in no time. Lust for money brings trouble and nothing but trouble. Going down that path, some lose their footing in the faith completely and live to regret it bitterly ever after.
But you, Timothy, man of God: Run for your life from all this. Pursue a righteous life—a life of wonder, faith, love, steadiness, courtesy. Run hard and fast in the faith. Seize the eternal life, the life you were called to, the life you so fervently embraced in the presence of so many witnesses.
. . .
Tell those rich in this world’s wealth to quit being so full of themselves and so obsessed with money, which is here today and gone tomorrow. Tell them to go after God, who piles on all the riches we could ever manage—to do good, to be rich in helping others, to be extravagantly generous. If they do that, they’ll build a treasury that will last, gaining life that is truly life.