The Gilded Age was a time between 1870 to 1900, roughly from the end of the Civil War to the turn of the century, when the rich were very, very rich. The railroads and other industries had made men very rich and their wives tried to outdo each other in spending extravagantly.

Just being rich was not enough. Several of the rich families would bring their daughters over to Europe to get them to marry into royalty.

There were few laws or labor unions to protect workers rights so the rich company owners took advantage of their workers. The wealthy also used their riches to make sure politicians did not interfere with their money-making schemes.

It all came to an end when journalists and preachers started criticizing what was going on, exposing the excesses.

According to a book by Anne De Courcy, the last major event of the gilded age was an extravagant ball that took place at the Waldorf Hotel in New York City on February 10, 1897. The women came to the ball adorned by hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of jewels and no expense was spared to pay for the food and entertainment. 

Almost all the newspaper articles that were written about the ball were scathingly critical. And many pastors took to their pulpits to criticize the extravagences of the Gilded Age. To avoid the criticism, many of those who attended the ball left for Europe as soon as they could.

This was also a time of crushing poverty for many people. Many immigrants had come from Europe seeking a better life in the US. They didn’t always succeed and many fell into poverty.

The situation during the Gilded Age is like what is described by Jesus in a parable he told in the sixteenth chapter of Luke:

[19] “There was a rich man who was clothed in purple and fine linen and who feasted sumptuously every day. [20] And at his gate was laid a poor man named Lazarus, covered with sores, [21] who desired to be fed with what fell from the rich man’s table. Moreover, even the dogs came and licked his sores. [22] The poor man died and was carried by the angels to Abraham’s side. The rich man also died and was buried, [23] and in Hades, being in torment, he lifted up his eyes and saw Abraham far off and Lazarus at his side. [24] And he called out, ‘Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus to dip the end of his finger in water and cool my tongue, for I am in anguish in this flame.’ [25] But Abraham said, ‘Child, remember that you in your lifetime received your good things, and Lazarus in like manner bad things; but now he is comforted here, and you are in anguish. [26] And besides all this, between us and you a great chasm has been fixed, in order that those who would pass from here to you may not be able, and none may cross from there to us.’ [27] And he said, ‘Then I beg you, father, to send him to my father’s house—[28] for I have five brothers—so that he may warn them, lest they also come into this place of torment.’ [29] But Abraham said, ‘They have Moses and the Prophets; let them hear them.’ [30] And he said, ‘No, father Abraham, but if someone goes to them from the dead, they will repent.’ [31] He said to him, ‘If they do not hear Moses and the Prophets, neither will they be convinced if someone should rise from the dead.’” (Luke 16:19-31)

In the Gilded Age the rich were very rich and cared very little for the poor, so also in this parable the rich man was very rich and cared little for the poor man who was right at his doorstep.

As we look at the Bible’s approach to rich people we see that the Bible never says that it is a sin to be rich. What the Bible does is warn people repeatedly not to trust in riches and that rich people are to share with those in need.

When the two people in the parable died, the roles were reversed. Lazarus, the poor man, was carried by the angels to the bosom of Abraham to enjoy the glories of heaven while the rich man went to torment in hell.

While there is nothing wrong with being rich it is really hard for rich people to enter heaven. Jesus says it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven. (Matthew 19::24)

Money is one of the powerful forces the devil uses to distract people from the heavenly kingdom. In the parable of the sower Jesus speaks of the deceitfulness of wealth: “As for what was sown among thorns, this is the one who hears the word, but the cares of the world and the deceitfulness of riches choke the word, and it proves unfruitful.” (Matthew 13:22)

How can I speak about wealth since I have never been wealthy and I know very few people who are wealthy? Jesus and Paul, in fact none of the great leaders of the faith, were ever wealthy in earthly terms but they all spoke about the dangers of wealth.

Paul gives advice to rich people in I Timothy: “As for the rich in this present age, charge them not to be haughty, nor to set their hopes on the uncertainty of riches, but on God, who richly provides us with everything to enjoy. [18] They are to do good, to be rich in good works, to be generous and ready to share, [19] thus storing up treasure for themselves as a good foundation for the future, so that they may take hold of that which is truly life.” (I Timothy 6:17-19)

The fact that the Bible gives instructions to rich people is a reminder that it is not a sin to be rich. And as always among fellow believers, Paul writes to the rich in the form of encouragement, not compulsion.

This is what James says: “Like a flower of the grass the rich man will pass away. [11] For the sun rises with its scorching heat and withers the grass; its flower falls, and its beauty perishes. So also will the rich man fade away in the midst of his pursuits. (James 1:10-11)

We have the greatest riches in Christ: “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.” (2 Corinthians 8:9)

“In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace.” (Ephesians 1:7)

The Gilded Age came to an end not because there were too many rich people but because the rich people chose not to share their wealth with others. When we realize how rich we are in Christ we care very little for uncertain, worldly wealth.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s