How Hank Paulson Prays

Former Treasury Secretary Hank Paulson told Charlie Rose last night that, when faced with a uniquely challenging moment in the early days of the financial crisis, he did what many of us do: he stepped into a quiet space, he took out his mobile phone, he called his wife, and he asked her to pray for him.

The passage from the Bible Paulson referenced to Rose as the one he specifically discussed with his wife was “second Timothy,” one of the three Pastoral Epistles. “2 Timothy” is a letter (various critics dispute this, of course, but a letter likely) written by Paul to Timothy. The key line, and the one Paulson quoted last night, reads in various iterations depending upon the Bible, but most commonly like this, from the 2007 New Living Translation:

For God did not give us a spirit of timidity, but a spirit of power, of love and of self-discipline.

King James gives this version:

For god hath not given us the spirit of fear; but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind. 

“Timidity” vs. “fear.” “Self-discipline” vs. “a sound mind.” Well, timidity feels bit meek when considered the potential collapse of the global flow of capital. And yet we might prefer a sound mind to self-discipline, which sounds a bit Da Vinci Code.

It doesn’t matter. Depending upon your point of view, data supports the fact that Paulson possesses a rare and sound and disciplined mind. But the fact that he relied on prayer is a nice note for him to emphasize, particularly in retrospect. Because calling on prayer admits not only the possession of faith but also the possession of doubt. And doubt is not something we often see—or like to see—in people in positions of power. Paulson ran Goldman Sachs. He ran the U.S. economy. He oversaw the near miss of what he assures us would have been a global breakdown. Yet Paulson prays. And he calls his wife to pray for, and with him.

A cliche coming from an unlikely source perhaps ceases to be a cliche, and becomes a lesson. When Gawker first wrote about Paulson writing his memoir, they suggested a title: This is Why You’re Poor. Well, the book, On the Brink, is out now. It may not be A la Recherche du Temps Perdu, but it might last as something that matters: a reminder of the fact that people often revert to simple systems when faced with chaos. Prayer, unlike Goldman Sachs stock, has no price. 

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