17 For behold, the Lord had blessed them so long with the riches of the world that they had not been stirred up to anger, to wars, nor to bloodshed; therefore they began to set their hearts upon their riches; yea, they began to seek to get gain that they might be lifted up one above another; therefore they began to commit secret murders, and to rob and to plunder, that they might get gain.
What happens to people during a period of sustained prosperity and peace? This verse outlines a sequence of possible negative outcomes:
1. They become obsessed with retaining their wealth. This is of course a recipe for unhappiness, because temporal wealth is perishable by nature, so an effort to retain it is a losing battle.
2. They become obsessed with social standing. Once their needs have been met, their attention turns to their wants, and those wants are often driven by a desire for praise from others.
3. Both of those obsessions provide a powerful motivation to deceive others, and ultimately to commit serious crimes against them.
How does this happen? Could it be that we are problem-solving creatures by nature, and that if we do not consciously identify worthwhile challenges to overcome, our mind will gravitate to inappropriate ones? When we are in poverty or at war, appropriate challenges might present themselves with little effort on our part. But when we life is easier, it may require additional effort on our part to identify worthy challenges to occupy our time and energy.