“Vanity of vanities, says Qoheleth, vanity of vanities! All things are vanity!”
Ecclesiastes 1:2 is one of the most famous phrases in the Bible. The author goes on to discuss a variety of issues, noting the fleeting nature of so many of man’s pursuits.
When it comes to the creation of wealth, the author says, “Here is one who has labored with wisdom and knowledge and skill, and yet to another who has not labored over it, he must leave property. This also is vanity and a great misfortune” (Ecclesiastes 2:21). When one looks to the acquisition of wealth as an end in itself, it’s easy to see why the author concludes that “this also is vanity.” After all, we don’t take our possessions with us when we die. But that’s not the end of the story. When one grows and uses wealth in the context of his responsibility as a steward of Providence, the end result isn’t vanity, but instead a beautiful use of talents and resources that builds up God’s kingdom on earth.
This brings us to the issue of inheritances. One’s responsibility as a steward of Providence doesn’t end with creating and using wealth in ways pleasing to God during his lifetime. It also includes doing one’s best to see that the wealth is used well in succeeding generations. The best way to accomplish that is to make sure that the next generation has a solid understanding and formation in what it means to be a steward of Providence.
In the popular movie The Ultimate Gift, Jason (Drew Fuller) is a “trust-fund baby” living a fast and loose life as a young adult. When his grandfather (James Garner) passes away, he anticipates an endless supply of money that will pay for his lifestyle. Instead, his grandfather has set up a series of character-building experiences that test the mettle of the young man until he understands that his inheritance is a gift meant to be used responsibly. It’s a movie worth seeing.
Inheritances don’t always work out as well. I remember receiving a call from a woman who shared about her family’s financial difficulties, which included a relatively modest income and the accumulation of unproductive debt. When I asked what the source of the income was, she shared that her husband received nearly $50,000 per year from a trust. That was the only income they had. I asked why her husband wasn’t gainfully employed, and it was obviously a sensitive question. The inheritance had changed the motivations of her husband for the worse.
Scripture speaks of inheritances as if describing two sides of a coin. Proverbs 13:22 says, “A good man leaves an inheritance to his children’s children.” Yet Proverbs 20:21 says, “An inheritance gotten hastily in the beginning will in the end not be blessed.”
Ultimately, whether an inheritance is positive or negative depends on if it assists the person receiving the gift in being a better steward of Providence. God love you!
Phil Lenahan is president of Veritas Financial Ministries (VeritasFinancialMinistries.com) and author of 7 Steps to Becoming Financially Free: A Catholic Small Group Study (OSV).