Why should I fear evil days
When my foes’ sin surrounds;
Even those who trust their wealth,
who boast as it abounds?
No man can by any means,
Pay to God his ransom price;
For the purchase of his soul
No payment can suffice.
(from “Hear This All Earth’s Nations” – based on Psalm 49; The Book of Psalms for Worship)
The world’s economy is based (however loosely) on an exchange of “goods” and “services”. The more desired goods we can produce, the more valued services we can provide, the greater wealth we can accumulate.
A purely “capitalist” philosophy holds that if this exchange is allowed to freely flow, and everyone is given the opportunity to produce as many goods, to provide as many services as s/he can, all will be as it should be.
A “socialist” critique of such a free market contends that greed infects the human heart such that a few wind up feasting on hoarded riches while many others are left to starve as they scramble for the scraps that fall from the table. Wealth need be redistributed justly, according to a socialist, so that all might live freely.
I do not count myself either a capitalist or a socialist, but I have benefited from both philosophies. For most of my adult life, I provided pastoral services, steadily rising through the ranks of my profession until I was “earning” a comparatively lucrative salary. Then, when I went on disability for Bipolar disorder, I became a beneficiary of the “safety net” our system provides for those deemed unable to earn a sufficient wage.
Given what I have witnessed in my life, I have mixed feelings about what method is used both to accumulate wealth and to share resources. On the one hand, crass capitalism consumes creation as short-term gain is favored over long-term investment. On the other hand, steadfast socialism skews the scales and fosters debilitating learned dependency.
The good news for us is this. God is not a capitalist. Neither is God a socialist. What is God’s economic philosophy? In God, the world’s values are redefined. “Goods” are not products we produce, but virtues we display. “Services” are not deeds that meet desires, but loving acts that meet needs.
The best example of God’s goods and services is found in the life of Jesus. Jesus displayed such “goods” as compassion when they brought to him a woman caught in adultery, and righteous anger when he found money changers perverted prayer in the temple. Jesus performed such “services” as healing for a Samaritan woman pleading for recognition and teaching all who would listen about the nature of God’s kingdom.
The world’s economy is based heavily on consumer spending. We are taught from the cradle to the grave to spend first (even if it means going into debt), then frantically scramble to earn enough to pay off our debts. There is little or no room left over for giving.
In God’s economy, we are provided essential resources and taught to give the first and best and live simply on the rest.
Recently, I read a story on my friend Leanne Sypes’blog about a young African artist named Phumlani Mtabe who has a dream to open an art school in his village. He’s been working hard and steadily to move toward this dream. Tragically, a fire struck and he lost everything. Phumlani writes –
We have to start from the beginning, rebuilding for a new hope that one day God will listen and hear our prayers.
Reading this was, for me, an answer to prayer. I’ve been looking for a way I might make an investment beyond my tithe to support God at work in the world beyond my small community. I have contacted Phumlani and his art teacher and hope to help (in whatever way I can) to invest in his dream.
Personally, I would much rather invest my resources in dreams like Phumlani’s than in Big Macs at McDonald’s, coffees at the convenience store, cable television, even books from Amazon I could readily borrow from the library.
How about you?