In Ransom of the Soul, Peter Brown discusses the ancient idea of storing up treasure in heaven. The concept, common to both Christianity and Judaism, held that happiness in the next life could be achieved by deeds of kindness and mercy in this life.
Wealthy Roman pagans had sought immortality through grand gestures, such as paying for lavish games, financing a public building, or building an opulent tomb.
By the third century AD, Brown argues, both Christians and Jews came to regard giving alms to the poor as the most effective way of storing up treasure in heaven. As time passed, under the influence of the great church fathers, such as Augustine, Christians increasingly gave their alms to the poor through the church. By the time the Middle Ages approached, the money was going to great monasteries and convents, where monks and nuns prayed for the souls of the donors.
Brown notes that theologians today give the idea of storing up treasure in heaven little attention. The idea that a person could ransom her soul and achieve eternal life by paying money to the church just seems a little too medieval for the modern mind.
But what if we’ve come to feel that the idea of eternal life is itself a touch medieval? What if we seek only to be well remembered by our friends and family? Then the idea of storing up treasure in this life becomes relevant again.
Lavish games and opulent tombs are probably not the way to go. But deeds of kindness and mercy can certainly help.
The Michael Bloombergs, Bill Gateses, and Warren Buffetts of this world will be remembered for their acts of charity far beyond their circles of friends and family. For the rest of us, worthy causes abound, from religious institutions to public broadcasting and funds for fighting particular diseases.
It’s interesting, though, how many of the worthy causes we support have so little to do with helping the poor in our own communities, as the ancients did. It’s easy to give money to a university, with billions of dollars in its endowment, but not so easy to give money to help the hungry and homeless nearby. Still, opportunities exist at the local level. We’ll explore some of these in a later post.
What about leaving something for the children or for other younger heirs? You’ll be well remembered by them, hopefully, but a legacy could serve a broader purpose as well. With pensions, Social Security, and Medicare under attack, the young may well have a more difficult time in their later years than we do. If we can help them, we’ll deserve some credit after we’re gone.
What are your ideas on how seniors can store up treasure in heaven?