The Curse of Riches

But alas! This kind heart had but a short time to remain such. The fatal poison of irresponsible power was already in her hands, and soon commenced its infernal work. That cheerful eye, under the influence of slavery, soon became red with rage; that voice, made all of sweet accord, changed to one of harsh and horrid discord; and that angelic face gave place to that of a demon.

Life and Times of Frederick Douglass, (1881) Chapter VI

Have you noticed how the Bible repeatedly warns the rich and even suggests it is harder for them to be saved? The Lord Jesus Himself likened their entry to heaven as a camel passing through the needle’s eye. James preached against their doings with the fire and brimstone of any Old Testament prophet. Yet we also know that God has no favouritism and that He blessed some with material wealth Himself, such Abraham and Job. Herein lies a mystery, a mystery which the late Jeffrey Epstein has helped me to better understand.

Epstein was a billionaire financier who, despite his introverted personality, was a popular celebrity among world socialites and politicians. He owned a Caribbean island as well as luxurious apartments in New York, Paris and mansions in Florida and Ohio. The New York address had a specially heated pavement by its main entrance so the snow would not stick. A nice touch. 

As well as being intelligent, handsome, popular and exceedingly wealthy, Epstein was a sex offender par excellence. He would pay young girls $200 to give him ‘massages’, only to then flip over and demand more. He had assistants and lackies to locate and transport these young girls to his homes. Some he promised trips abroad or help with their careers, if only they kept quiet and cooperated. When one, a budding artist, objected, he threatened that nobody would buy her art and that she might be careful while out jogging because ‘it could be dangerous’. When any suggested they might go to the police, he boasted ‘I own the Palm Beach Police Department’. He had certainly been very generous to his local force.

When he was finally brought to trial for his many crimes, he hired eight defence lawyers known throughout the entire country for being the best, including a Harvard Law School professor. The police officers who had investigated his affairs were put under surveillance and their household rubbish bins were searched, such were his resources. One officer described his many crimes as a ‘molestation pyramid scheme’. A former stockbroker with whom he worked remarked that “His moral compass is upside down”. A victim observed ‘He controls the people he meets and manipulate some totally with his charisma’. And with his money, I might add.

It struck me that there are many perverts and villains out there, but few enjoy the resources and assistance that Epstein’s billions could procure. Had he been some unemployed labourer in Bridlington, or moderately successful tradesman, his crimes would have been fewer. His riches provided him with greater opportunity to offend and cause harm. They allowed him to get away with it for so long. They opened up to him the lives of many more people to abuse and destroy.

Last year, our Headmaster advised the assembled Upper Sixth that good A-level grades wouldn’t define them as people, but they will open more doorways through which they might pass. And so with wealth. It gives its holder more buttons to press, but options to consider and potentially more crimes to commit. This, I believe, is why the scriptures warn the rich in more urgent language than the poor. Though we are all corrupted by Adam’s guilt, the rich are doubly cursed by having greater opportunity and freedom with which to slake their lusts and realise their nightmares. The opening quote describes the young woman, Mrs Auld, for whom the enslaved Douglas is given to work. At first she was kindly and benign, but the total power given her by the South’s peculiar institution corrupted her goodness; it made her to be a bully and ogress to one unable to resist.

I sometimes bemoan my lack of resources, the paltry amount I can afford to donate, the financial uncertainly of the future. Yet I wonder if my relative poverty is one of God’s greatest blessings towards me. God would sooner His children be poor in this life and rich in the next, than wealthy now and compromised or damned thereafter.

The name of the Lord is a strong tower;

The righteous run to it and are safe.


The rich man’s wealth is his strong city,

And like a high wall in his own esteem.

Proverbs 11:10 & 11

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