How God Views Success
What good is it for a man to gain the whole world, yet forfeit his soul? Mark 8:36
In 1923 a group of men who were considered winners met at the Edgewater Beach Hotel in Chicago. Present were eight of the world’s most successful financiers. Like whom? Charles Schwab, president of Bethlehem Steel, was there along with the president of the world’s largest utility company, Samuel Insull. Richard Whitney, the president of the New York Stock Exchange, was also there. Also attending that meeting was Albert Fall, then a member of the U.S. President’s cabinet, along with the heads of the world’s largest investment firm, the greatest monopoly in the world, and the Bank of International Settlement, respectively.
And what happened to these men who had clawed their way to the very top? Charles Schwab, the man who headed the largest steel company in the world, died bankrupt and lived on borrowed money for the last five years of his life.
Samuel Insull, the man who headed the largest utility company in the world, ended his days as a fugitive, broke, and living in a foreign country. Richard Whitney, the man who was president of the New York Stock Exchange, was released from Sing Sing prison to die at home.
Albert Fall, the man who was a member of the U.S. President’s cabinet, was pardoned so that he also could die at home.
These individuals made it to the top, but once they got there, something went wrong. Very wrong! What price success? What cost to win?
For sixty seconds, focus your attention on these individuals, likewise people considered winners: Actor Robin Williams; fashion designer Alexander McQueen; Arthur Chevrolet, the designer of the automobile built by General Motors; Linebacker Jovon Belcher; Author Sylvia Plath; country singer Mindy McCready; and Edwin Armstrong who invented FM radio. And to this group I could add the names of Ernest Hemingway, Marilyn Monroe, and Kurt Cobain for a beginning. What do they have in common? Two things: They were successful and they were also suicides.
I said they were successful. But were they really? Perhaps that depends on how you define this nebulous word. If reaching the top is success, they made it, but as Dr. Charles Malik, the Lebanese statesman and former president of the U. N. General Assembly defined success, they fell dismally short. “Success,” said Malik, “is seeking and knowing and loving and obeying God; and if you seek, you will know; and if you know you will love; and if you love, you will obey.”
Success from God’s point of view, from the vantage of looking back over life and valuing relationships is vastly different. Jesus put it, “What good is it for a man to gain the whole world and lose his soul? Or what can a man give in exchange for his soul?” (Mark 8:36).
I think if Jesus were alive today, he might well put it, “So what if a person gains the company presidency, wins an Academy Award or climbs the greasy ladder to the top but loses his family, his self-respect, and his soul in the process?”
A closing thought: It is never too late to change directions in life. Some people strive for survival; some for success. But some achieve significance, and with that level of accomplishment comes the peace of God that means your life was worth living. Don’t simply occupy space on Planet Earth. With God’s help make your life count for something lasting, worthwhile, something that will endure the fire.
Resource reading: Mark 9:34-38.