In the Prologue to his National Book Award-winning Stamped from the Beginning, Ibram X. Kendi writes:

“Federal data show that the median wealth of White households is a staggering thirteen times the median wealth of Black households …. If Black people make up 13.2 percent of the US population, then Black people should … [be] somewhere close to owning 13 percent of US wealth. But today, the United States remains nowhere close to racial parity. African Americans own 2.7 percent of the nation’s wealth.”

In the third edition of their popular introduction to Critical Race Theory, Richard Delgado and Jean Stefancic write:

“Poverty … has a black or brown face: black families command, on the average, about one thirteenth of the assets of their white counterparts. They pay more for many products and services, including cars. People of color lead shorter lives, receive worse medical care, complete fewer years of school, and occupy more menial jobs than do whites…. Why all this is so and the relationship between racism and economic oppression—between race and class—are topics of great interest to critical race theory.”

Jemar Tisby also asserts, “Racism today comes in the form of … the ongoing and widening racial wealth gap.”

A common premise can be discerned from these statements: the idea that wealth and the good life go hand in hand, and the implication seems to be that some do not have wealth because of structural, societal injustice. On this point, Liz Mineo writes in the Harvard Gazette, “The wealth gap between Black and white Americans has been persistent and extreme. It represents, scholars say, the accumulated effects of four centuries of institutional and systemic racism and bears major responsibility for disparities in income, health, education, and opportunity that continue to this day.”

My goal in this article is to compare this premise (that wealth and the good life are necessarily connected) and its implication (that some do not have wealth because of structural injustice) to the teaching of Solomon in Ecclesiastes and Proverbs. This is an attempt to compare and contrast the worldviews of the Critical Race Theorists, on the one hand, and Solomon on the other.

Whereas many advocates of social justice who speak to wealth in our culture seem to suggest that racism accounts for why some have wealth and others do not, the perspective reflected in the two books of Solomon we will consider here is more nuanced and flexible on the questions of the relative value of wealth and whether it goes hand in hand with the good life.

Wealth and Worldview

What people say about wealth is a window into their worldview. According to Critical Race Theorists and Social Justice advocates, disparity in wealth results from the fact that “racism is ordinary, not aberrational … the usual way society does business, the common, everyday experience of most people of color in this country.”

It seems that according to this worldview, racism is the problem, and the wealth gap proves it. In Solomon’s scriptural worldview, by contrast, the problem is that man sinned against God, resulting in the Genesis 3:14–19 words of judgment. Because of sin, humanity has been forbidden access to the tree of life (Gen 3:22), expelled from Eden (3:23–24) to work the cursed land (3:17, 23), and all this under the sentence of death (2:17; 3:19). The resolution to this problem requires atonement being made for sin so that God can offer just forgiveness, and those who experience God’s merciful salvation are reconciled to God. In the biblical worldview, life’s highest good is not wealth but God’s presence: “in your presence there is fullness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures forevermore” (Ps 16:11).

To be fair to the Critical Race Theorists, I would observe that they do not assert that their highest good is to possess wealth. But here I would critique their worldview against the standard of the Christian worldview. Whereas the Bible spells out the problem, its resolution, and what makes for a good life now and in the hereafter, Critical Race Theory does not spell out a way for people to experience forgiveness and reconciliation, nor does it articulate its vision for what constitutes the good life now and in the future. We are left to draw our own conclusions based on what its advocates say. Ibram X. Kendi asserts, “The only remedy to racist discrimination is antiracist discrimination. The only remedy to past discrimination is present discrimination. The only remedy to present discrimination is future discrimination.” It appears that what is desired is power—power to discriminate, power to amass wealth, power to punish past wrongs. I submit that in Proverbs and Ecclesiastes Solomon shows us a more excellent way.

Scripture and Critical Race Theory

The wisdom that Solomon teaches stands most in contrast with the Critical Race Theory (CRT) worldview on the question of ultimate ends: everything Solomon says indicates that for him knowing God and enjoying him forever is the chief end of life, and this shows up in the way God is a non-factor for those who operate according to CRT.

What Solomon teaches about wealth and poverty in Proverbs and Ecclesiastes is fruit that grows on a tree planted by the Torah stream, in the sunshine of the teaching of David, informed by the other prophets who had been active to that point. Consider, for instance, how what Solomon says resonates both with what Moses said in Deuteronomy 8:17–18 and Hannah’s prayer in 1 Samuel 2:7:

Beware lest you say in your heart, “My power and the might of my hand have gotten me this wealth.” You shall remember the Lord your God, for it is he who gives you power to get wealth, that he may confirm his covenant that he swore to your fathers, as it is this day. (Deut 8:17–18); The Lord makes poor and makes rich; he brings low and exalts. (1 Sam 2:7).

This perspective can also be seen to inform the Lord Jesus in his disregard for earthly wealth and happy embrace of economic poverty. As Paul puts it in 2 Corinthians 8:9, “For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you by his poverty might become rich.”

Paul likewise knew a joy in God that did not arise from money: “I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need” (Phil 4:12).

We have good news both for those who have embraced Critical Race Theory and for those who in their desire for social justice demand equal outcomes for all: there is a good and wise God who can be trusted to administrate all economic outcomes according to his good pleasure. It has not been given to us to control those outcomes, for the secret things belong to him (Deut 29:29). What has been given to us is a revealed call to learn wisdom, to see the futility of living to amass wealth, experience earthly pleasure, or gain power—nor does Solomon commend all-consuming advocacy of justice in the here and now as the path to the good life (cf. Eccl 3:16–17). The wisdom that Solomon teaches urges us to know God, to trust him, to fear him, and to enjoy his goodness to us. That is his gift to us.

This article is adapted from a chapter in Healthy and Wealthy? A Biblical-Theological Response to the Prosperity Gospel edited by Robert Plummer.