Panic surged through Wall Street in October of 1929. On October 24, stock prices plunged briefly before several large banks intervened and the market rallied. But things were about to get much worse. On Black Monday, October 28, stock prices fell by more than 10 percent. The next day it happened again. Prices would continue falling for the next three years. When they reached their nadir in July of 1932, prices were down 90 percent, and the country was in the midst of the Great Depression.
In the face of such tremendous financial losses, the kind of desperation felt by some financiers was understandable. But it is not inevitable.
The effects of loss depends on our attitude toward our circumstances. Stoic philosopher Seneca wrote, “No man is crushed by misfortune unless he has first been deceived by prosperity.”
Studies by economists and psychologists provide support for Seneca’s observation. Our satisfaction with our circumstances depends on the comparisons we make. We compare our circumstances to our expectations, and we hate losing things we were expecting to have. That aversion to loss influences all sorts of decisions, including decisions about investments, insurance, and how long to work. It may even influence the performance of professional athletes, with golfers playing better when they need to save par than when they have the chance to beat it.
But loss cannot be avoided. Cars rust, fabrics fray, and bodies fail. All who are born must die, and each of us leaves this world with empty hands.
The Bible describes an attitude toward loss that can protect us from the disappointment that accompanies it. Our expectations about the future often reflect our current circumstances, but, as Seneca knew, they also reflect the way we see ourselves and the world around us.
This is illustrated in the story of Job. In a single day, Job’s flocks, his servants, and his children were destroyed. But instead of cursing God, Job fell to the ground and worshiped, saying, “Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked I will depart. The Lᴏʀᴅ gave and the Lᴏʀᴅ has taken away; may the name of the Lᴏʀᴅ be praised” (Job 1:21).
Job understood that the things he possessed would not always belong to him. They had been entrusted to him for a time, but, as the psalmist David wrote, “The earth is the Lᴏʀᴅ’s, and everything in it” (Ps. 24:1). Job was merely a steward, and the things God had given him were things Job must eventually surrender.
Jesus illustrated faithful stewardship in the parable of the talents (Matt. 25). In that parable, a man leaving for a journey entrusts his wealth—measured in talents, an ancient unit of weight—to his servants. The faithful stewards invest the money, and when the journey is complete, they return to their master both his money and what they have earned with it.
Christians most often discuss stewardship in the context of charity and service. If they are faithful stewards of the time, money, and abilities God has given them, they will not waste these gifts but invest them in projects of value to God. But an attitude of stewardship has further implications. The faithful stewards of the parable were not crushed when they returned the money to their master. That’s because they were expecting to return it.
Christians who adopt an attitude of stewardship toward the things God has given them acknowledge that those things are not, as Seneca wrote, “theirs to enjoy forever.” When faced with loss, they will not be crushed. Instead, they will be able to say, like Job, “The Lᴏʀᴅ gave and the Lᴏʀᴅ has taken away; may the name of the Lᴏʀᴅ be praised.”