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A Feature Review of
Broke: What Financial Desperation Revealed about God’s Abundance
Paperback: IVP Books, 2014
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Reviewed by Halee Gray Scott.
On September 29, Americans watched the Dow slide 778 points—the largest single day decline—like a Category 5 Atlantic hurricane just broke shore. As everyone else fled for cover in horror, my husband, Paul, and I tried walking on water. As a result of the crisis, Paul’s company, a non-profit ministry, ordered offsite workers to work from the corporate office in Laguna Beach, one of the most expensive zip codes in the country. Knowing we’d never be able to afford a home there on a ministry salary, Paul and I decided to take the money we’d saved over the years and build a life in a more affordable area. Things went well until the eve of my daughter’s first birthday, when she came down with a severe, life-threatening respiratory illness, landing her in the children’s hospital for more than a week. With our crash and burn insurance policy, that one visit cost us all our savings and put us severely in debt. Far from walking on water, we sunk. Or at least we thought we did. We felt like we’d lost everything.
Given this financial history and the lessons that emerged from it, I eagerly anticipated diving in to Caryn Rivadeneira’s book Broke: What Financial Desperation Revealed about God’s Abundance. In Broke, Caryn recounts her own experience of going broke and what that experience taught her about God. From the beginning, Rivadeneira makes it clear that “broke” wasn’t a place she expected to go. “Anyone who knew us would have agreed,” she writes, “broke was not in the cards for us … broke never should have happened. Not to the couple who danced their first wedded dance in one of the swankiest ballrooms in Chicago.” And yet, just like my family, through the conglomeration of a bad economy, some risky financial decisions, and a few overwhelming medical bills, broke is exactly where the Rivadeneiras found themselves.
Broke isn’t a place any of us really want to go. On one hand, we esteem religious figures like Mother Teresa or foreign missionaries who forsake wealth and financial gain to live among the poor; on the other, we’re steeped in a worldview that equates happiness and blessedness with financial prosperity. Advertisements tell us that new acquisitions make us happier. Television shows like Keeping Up with the Kardashians and The Real Housewives teach us that happiness follows money and fame. Even a quick survey of Old Testament luminaries like Abraham, Job, King David, and King Solomon seems to purport financial prosperity follows God’s favored. A recent Time magazine report indicates that a whopping 17% of all Christians in America identify with the health and wealth phenomenon —a view that was once on the religious fringe. From the media to the church we get the message that the wealthy, easy life is the blessed life, and if we’re suffering economically, something is wrong. It’s a message that has seeping power. It seeps in the cracks of our theology and our human frailty so that even the most theologically grounded persons are not exempt from asking God, even pleading with him, “Why?” Why can’t I find a job? Why can’t I make ends meet? Why did we go broke?