It’s early Tuesday morning. You shuffle into your study at the church, turn on the coffee maker, and open your laptop.
While the coffee brews, you open your email to find a subject line that says “I’m Now a Multimillionaire. What Should I Do?”
You open the message. It reads:
I hope a pseudonymous email doesn’t alarm you. I don’t attend your church, but I’m hoping you’ll be willing to provide some counsel. (Due to the nature of the topic and potential for “tithing” involved, I’m not comfortable approaching the leadership at my church. Yeah…I should point out that I’m not sending any cash your way either!)
My grandfather died a few months ago. He was a very wealthy and private man. So he never said much about how he came about his wealth. He became wealthy overnight due to a windfall and some well-timed purchase of stocks in his early 20’s—that’s the story that circulated in town anyway. He eventually used the wealth to buy up real estate and start a company. He made a lot of money.
Mom was his only child, born late in his life. She died several years ago (breast cancer). I’m my grandfather’s sole living relative. (I’m 20.)
His attorney contacted me to inform me that he left me most of his money and a sealed letter. (My attorney and accountant both advise me not to disclose the amount. Suffice it to say, I’m a multimillionaire.)
I haven’t received the funds yet. (The check is in the mail, apparently.) But I did receive the letter. And what a letter it was.
My grandfather confessed that he did not come by his wealth through a legit windfall and stock purchases. Here’s a summary of the story in his letter:
Grandpa had a high school sweetheart that he courted in secret. (I’ll call her Jane Juliet.) The Juliets were a large, wealthy, respectable family. Grandpa was the only child of a dirt-poor drunk farmer. When my grandfather proposed marriage after graduation, Mr. Juliet not only refused, he forbade his daughter from ever seeing grandpa again. Within a year, she’d married a son of her father’s friend and moved to Chicago.
Grandpa spent an entire year crafting an elaborate plan to exact revenge on the Juliet family. It involved a blackmail plot. (It was as genius as it was wicked.) Grandpa tracked Mr. Juliet’s routines, learning them forward and backward. He knew about the private cabin Mr. Juliet went to get drunk out of his mind and sleep with other men’s wives. Grandpa stalked that cabin on a night the Sherriff’s wife was visiting. When the woman left the cabin, he knocked her out, dragged her into the house, and killed her in the bedroom of Mr. Juliet (who was passed out). Grandpa took pains to ensure there was blood on Mr. Juliet’s hands both figuratively and literally.
Grandpa then washed up and took photos of the scene. After that, he sat in an armchair reading a book until Mr. Juliet awoke.
He told Mr. Juliet he was hiking nearby that morning to take nature pictures when he peeked in the window. He noticed (and recognized) the dead body by the bed. So, he let himself in to document it. He would be going to the Sherriff immediately. That is unless Mr. Juliet would agree to some terms. Those terms included the immediate transfer of untraceable valuables and large cash payment. The payments would continue for years, as would the sale of valuable Juliet properties at ridiculously low prices. Grandpa milked him for all he could until Juliet got drunk and drove his car off a bridge.
In an unexpected twist, the Juliet children had been going into debt, anticipating their old man’s fortune. When there was little-to-nothing for them in the will, the banks wanted nothing to do with them. Grandpa then stepped in to offer loans (with incredible interest rates and a few “requirements” in the fine print). He drove them to bankruptcy, then bought their things and offered them jobs for him. All the Juliet children (except for Jane) were basically slaves to my grandpa. He treated them like filth while they made him wealthy.
By the time I was in grade school, the Juliet family was the dirt-poor outcasts of our town. My family was wealthy and well-respected. He manufactured a total reversal in fortunes.
That’s how his fortune came to be—through murder, blackmail, lies, and the mistreatment of others.
And that’s how my fortune came to be. This entire inheritance (and a significant portion of the good things I have in life, like a college education, etc.) are the result of his evil actions.
The Juliet family still lives here. They never recovered. They’re still impoverished and disadvantaged, while I’m a multimillionaire through their ancestor’s wealth and suffering.
Here’s my question: Legalities aside, what am I ethically and morally obligated to do with the money? What would love do?
How would you respond?
*inspired by this question from Seth Haines.
“#DearPastor” is an occasional series representing questions directed to a pastor on topics of culture, church, bible, and theology. These letters may be real or fictional. No real communication will be published without the express permission of the author (unless received anonymously). It is my hope that this series prompts thought and conversation. Go here to read other #DearPastor posts.