Generous to a Fault

I picked up this classic a couple days ago for fifty cents at my favorite thrift store and decided to try to finish it before flying to Germany for six weeks. Pere Goriot (Father Goriot) is a tragic story of a retired vermicelli manufacturer during the early nineteenth-century, who sacrifices his wealth to allow his two ungrateful daughters upward social mobility. In the end they don’t even attend their penurious father’s funeral. The novel, which reminded me a little of Shel Silverstein’s children’s story The Giving Tree, is a biting social commentary on the status-obsessed Parisians of the Bourbon Restoration.

Balzac’s story has got me thinking about generosity. How much is too much? Obviously, Goriot took his parental generosity to an unhealthy extreme. It’s only natural for us to give more freely to our children, but the novel shows the perverse effects of misplaced generosity and echoes the Bible’s warning that “the love of money is the root of all evil” (1 Tim. 6:10). Generosity may begin at home, as the saying goes, but it must go beyond. Most of what I read in Scripture about giving directs me to give to those less fortunate than I, not those who are better off, even if they are my own offspring. What do you think?

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