Two weeks ago, Oliver Anthony’s “Rich Men North of Richmond” became the Number One song on iTunes. The native Virginian musician rocketed to overnight stardom after his acoustic lament went viral on social media.
His song, which still sits atop the iTunes chart, has also garnered 29 million views on YouTube and over 26 million views on Twitter.
Anthony recently shared his life story on Facebook, divulging he “brush[ed] off 8 million dollar offers” after his song went viral.
“I don’t want 6 tour buses, 15 tractor trailers and a jet. I don’t want to play stadium shows, I don’t want to be in the spotlight,” Anthony wrote, adding, “I wrote the music I wrote because I was suffering with mental health and depression.”
Anthony, who currently lives in a $750 camper that he bought off Craigslist, says he dropped out of high school at 17 and worked multiple plant jobs in North Carolina, including a stint at a paper mill.
He’s been open about trying – and failing – to fix his mental health problems with alcohol. But one month ago, Anthony claims he knelt in prayer and “promised God to get sober if he helped him follow his dream.”
Ending his Facebook post, Anthony wrote,
When is enough, enough? When are we going to fight for what is right again? MILLIONS have died protecting the liberties we have. Freedom of speech is such a precious gift. Never in world history has the world had the freedom it currently does. Don’t let them take it away from you.
Just like those once wandering in the desert, we have lost our way from God and have let false idols distract and divide us (emphasis in original).
Amen to that.
According to the Social Security Administration, the average American male is expected to earn between $1.13 million to $3.05 million over the course of his life.
How many men do you think would turn down $8 million in one day?
Some may consider Anthony’s decision foolish – in the eyes of the world, at least.
But perhaps – viewed through a spiritual lens – his decision is honorable and noble. Perhaps his choice should be seen as an exercise of temperance and prudence, two of the four Cardinal virtues.
The Bible has much to say about the topic of wealth.
One the one hand, it warns against apathy and laziness.
How long will you lie there, O sluggard?
When will you arise from your sleep?
A little sleep, a little slumber,
a little folding of the hands to rest,
and poverty will come upon you like a robber,
and want like an armed man (Proverbs 6:9-11, ESV).
It also warns against those who deliberately fail to provide for members of their own family (1 Timothy 5:8).
And yet, the Bible – and the Christian tradition – sees poverty, chosen for the sake of pursuing Jesus Christ without impediment, as a virtue. This runs contrary to the Prosperity Gospel preached in many American churches today.
In His Sermon on the Mount, Jesus Christ cautioned against accumulating treasures found in this world while neglecting the treasure found above in the Kingdom of Heaven (Matthew 6:19-21).
But woe to you who are rich, for you have received your consolation (Luke 6:24, ESV).
Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven (Matthew 5:3, ESV).
Wealth can be good. It can be used for good. And it can be given for the good of others.
But there is also great freedom and liberty in forsaking all – wealth included – for the sake of Jesus Christ.
Additionally, there’s another lesson we can learn from Anthony’s story.
Anthony’s story also teaches us wealth transcends the material. In fact, various studies have shown that wealth only minorly increases peoples’ happiness.
A recent study found that “there is no practical effect of income [on happiness] at all.”
“People … tend to overestimate the importance of money to happiness, so they should probably care less,” the study’s author said.
In contrast, numerous studies have found the wealth of a family – marriage and children – is highly associated with substantial increases in happiness.
“Being married is the most important differentiator with a 30-percentage point happy-unhappy gap over the unmarried” compared to other sociological factors,” Professor Sam Peltzman recently found, adding:
The happiness landslide comes entirely from the married. Low happiness characterizes all types of non-married. No subsequent population categorization will yield so large a difference in happiness across so many people.
Getting married and having children are highly correlated with one’s sense of well-being. As Christians, this shouldn’t surprise us – we learn as much from the very first chapter of Scripture (Genesis 1:26-28).
Despite our culture’s relentless anti-nuptial and anti-natal messaging and marketing, human beings were created to live in community and to live for love.
Nothing will change that fact.
And no amount of money can buy love.
So now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love (1 Corinthians 13:13, ESV).
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