Economics 101 & Theology 101

Can Genesis Teach Us Anything about Economics?

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The Bible is a book with a particular focus, and we must be careful when we extract other lessons from it. That said, there are many lessons and applications we can learn and should consider that I think we overlook, especially when it comes to economics.

My attempt in this and future posts will be to pull a few lessons in economics from various books of the Bible and apply them to today. Where better to start than with Genesis?

Creativity

No discussion of Genesis is complete without this lesson.

God is a creator. That is the first thing we are told in Genesis 1. Value, wealth, and human flourishing are directly tied to the creative process. Humans are created with the ability to also be creative, and one of the ways to express creativity is by building businesses, inventing new products, and creating better methods of accomplishing tasks (such as the internal combustion engine to replace horses).

Entrepreneurship is an act of creation. It requires a vision for a better world and the perseverance to make that vision a reality.

Work

Some think that work is part of the curse, since Adam is told in Genesis 3 that he will eat by the sweat of his brow. The nature of work may have changed after the Fall, but there was work before the Fall. As Hugh Whelchel explains in this post about common misconceptions about work,

In the beginning, prior to the Fall, God gave Adam and Eve important work in the Garden of Eden. Genesis 2:15 tells us about humanity’s first day at work: “The LORD God took man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and take care of it.” Man was given the work of cultivating, developing, and protecting God’s creation.

Humans are created to work. Christians are called laborers, fishermen, and even servants in the Bible. All are people who work hard. Not working is not part of the plan.

In the United States work has increasingly taken on air of something to be avoided. It is so much so that when actor Ashton Kutcher made a positive point about hard work, the video was hailed as some sort of epiphany. Our cultural drive to avoid work as long as we can and get out of it as soon as we can is hurting our country and our souls.

Trade & Mobility

Genesis is full of people on the move. Abraham leaves his home and travels to several countries during his life. He trades and engages in commerce everywhere he goes. Jacob travels and trades in his early and later years.

The point here is that trade is important. We have Christians regularly calling for boycotts and avoidance of certain firms and countries that have adopted policies at odds with biblical morality. It is vital that we stand for God on all occasions and hold to the truth, but the Genesis lesson seems to be that we are not to completely withdraw from doing business and interacting with non-believers.

Abraham and Jacob did not avoid such people, and indeed worked with them, for them, and traded with them. Even the ill-fated Lot was not condemned for moving to the Cities of the Plain, but for becoming like their inhabitants. Abraham’s purchase of a burial plot for Sarah is a fine example of standing for God while engaging in trade with non-believers.

These lessons from Genesis concerning creativity, work, and trade and mobility point us to an important question: do we influence people by engaging them or withdrawing from them? The Genesis model was about high engagement. This model provides a helpful illustration as we seek to impact culture for Christ through our work.

Editor’s Note: Photo appears courtesy of Shermee Photography. 

What other economic lessons can we learn from Genesis? 

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  • Excellent
    post! I would add that some reading I have done lately on the image of God and dominion have important economic implications. In Moses’ day, the “image of god” referred to the king, who represented the gods on earth, and the temple idols of gods. It meant that the one bearing the image ruled with the authority of the gods. If Moses meant the same thing when he used the term, he would have meant that each individual is God’s representative on earth with his authority. No one man has the right to rule over other men as the pharaohs and kings did. That’s why Moses set up the government of Israel with no king, no legislature, no executive branch, only judges to settle disputes and apply God’s law.

    Also, reading about dominion I have learned that Jews considered it the foundation of property rights. With the “image of God”, the dominion command makes individuals
    pharaohs over their property.

    • Brian Baugus

      Roger, thanks so much for
      reading. I appreciate your time and for the more your interest enough to
      comment. I think you point out some interesting aspects concerning how we can look at
      the Old Testament events and concepts and apply them even to today’s situation.

      I agree with you 100%. As I look at economic lessons
      and more books of the Bible in the coming weeks, I will show that the Bible is very strong
      on the idea of property rights. Property rights are foundational to a properly
      functioning market economy and the market economy enables God’s creations to
      flourish by allowing them to utilize their talents.

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