Wednesday, October 09, 2013

Gospel Economics

  photo Loaves_and_Fishes_2__zpsee56117c.jpg

In Indiana high school seniors have to take Economics.  At the Sr. High  prayer breakfast today we were talking about that subject.  Of course, no entry level discussion of economics is complete without someone mentioning the worn-out platitude/ eternal economic truth, "There is no such thing as a free lunch." 

Now I will admit, I have been wanting to have a pointless argument for a while, and this was a great chance to do so.  I disagreed with it, and one of the youth in AP Econ insisted it was true.  I did not deny the truth, but stated that the position when held as an absolute goes to some fairly absurd places.  I then proceeded to make this point with a (fairly) absurd hypothetical. 

In my hypothetical situation I created a hunter-gather society living in an isolated area where all of their needs were provided in abundance.   For someone living in that situation, eating two apples  is a free lunch.  Now I knew from an economic view point this is technically not true, but I went with it.  The youth stated it was not free because there was opportunity cost involved.  By eating the apples, there was a cost of not eating berries.  Another argued that there was a cost in time.  This was the point I was driving for, especially the time argument.   I created a hypothetical situation that lacked scarcity, and the only way to create a cost for the lunch was to essentially create scarcity where there was not any.  Survival is kind of a priority so to say giving up time to do so is kind of like saying that opportunity cost for breathing is giving up not breathing.  Technically, that is true, but it is absurd (which was my original point).

I still had a trump card though for the free lunch, and that is Manna from heaven.  The full details can be found in Exodus 16, but the summary is that God provided bread for the people of Israel.  They would wake up every morning, and there would be this special bread just sitting on the ground waiting for them to pick up, and it provided everything they needed for the day.  Someone tried to argue that there was cost to God, but I think when you are omnipotent and omnipresent opportunity costs really are not applicable anymore. 
This really got me thinking though about how economics are present in the bible.  The basic theme of economics is scarcity.  In fact, here is a text book definition of economics: " Economics is the study of how people make choices under conditions of scarcity and the results of those choices for society."
By and large our governmental policies and many of our personal actions are dictated by an economics of scarcity.  Our economic strategies (personal, business, and political) are based off of how we can secure what we want from the limited amount of resources. 

The bible would make a very poor Economics text book, because they economics promoted in the Bible is not a philosophy of scarcity but an economics of abundance.  The economics presented in the Bible presumes that there will not be scarcity.  If we look at Exodus 16 we see this.  The people were given all of the manna they needed for the day, but if they horded it then it went bad (Exodus 16:20).  In other words, if God's abundance was treated like a scarce resource it was worthless and wasted. 
Jesus most clearly lays out this Gospel of Abundance in his teachings.  There are multiple examples from the parable of the Rich Fool (Luke 12:15-21) to Jesus sending out his disciples with barely the bare essentials (Matthew 10).  However, the most clear example of how Jesus understood econ is found in the Sermon on the Mount:
19 “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moths and vermin destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. 20 But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moths and vermin do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. 21 For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.
22 “The eye is the lamp of the body. If your eyes are healthy,[a] your whole body will be full of light. 23 But if your eyes are unhealthy,[b] your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light within you is darkness, how great is that darkness!
24 “No one can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money.
25 “Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes? 26 Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? 27 Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life[c]?
28 “And why do you worry about clothes? See how the flowers of the field grow. They do not labor or spin. 29 Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these. 30 If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, will he not much more clothe you—you of little faith? 31 So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ 32 For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. 33 But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. 34 Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.
The basic idea is that instead of worrying about scarcity and building our lives and decisions around scarcity, we should trust in God's abundance to provide.  However, an economics of abundance goes a step further than this.   If we do not have to worry about scarcity then we have no reason to hold back our own resources and we have no reason to be a source of abundance for others.  This sort of giving in abundance is what we see from the Samaritan in the parable of the Good Samaritan.  It is the same sort of giving in abundance we see in the church of Acts (Except for Ananias and Sapphira who stuck to scarcity economics strategies and it did not work out to well for them- Acts 5:1-11). 

Now I am not really advocating that we sell everything, give it all to the poor, and expect food to be on the ground for us every morning.  Then again, what if we did?   What if we trusted God to provide for us so much that we did not worry about tomorrow?  What if we stopped evaluating things in how can I get what I want out of the scarcity but instead evaluated things on how can I give out of abundance? 
Living that way does not require a supernatural intervention like the time that Jesus took five loaves of bread and 2 fish and used it to feed 5,000 men (plus everyone else) and still have 12 baskets left over.   It just requires a different approach.  A few years ago I too part in an annual conference service project.  The plan was to have people divide by districts, eat lunch together, and then serve.  There was mix up in the lunch delivery, and the place I was gathering was really short on lunches.  What happened is that people began sharing.  Instead of evaluating things on scarcity people gave out of abundance, and everyone ate.  There was no supernatural multiplication of the food, there was just a different way of looking at things.  Opportunity cost did not apply.  The chips and half a sandwich I gave up was not a loss or cost for me, because I viewed it as an abundance that I was sharing not a scarce resource I was spending.   

I will try my hardest not to make any direct political statements, but since we are in the middle of a government shut down that is at least partially related to spending, I can not help but think what would happen if on a national level how things would change if we went from an economics of scarcity to the gospel based economics of abundance.  I have a sneaky suspicion that we would have a lot less problems and we would see that resources and wealth are not as scarce as we always treat them.


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