Economics 101 & Public Square & Theology 101

Thinking Biblically about Wealth during Seasons of Scarcity

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2014 was a year of many joys and many challenges for many people. I’m sure it was for you, and it certainly was for me. As a mother of two small children who also works full-time, sometimes the needs around me can seem overwhelming.

When this happens, I often return to this passage from the first chapter of James:

Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.

The entry for “count” in Webster’s 1828 edition of his dictionary defines it as, among other things,

To reckon; to place to an account; to ascribe or impute; to consider or esteem as belonging.

Counting, therefore, is not merely the setting aside of items for categorization, but the accumulation of experiences that speak to the nature of our identities.

As we count our trials, so we testify to our character.

The needs I faced in 2014 and will continue to face are not necessarily monetary. Wealth is more than simply money. It can be anything in our possession that we consider an asset.

Most frequently, though, we think of money when we think of wealth. The tally, or literally, count of our money or our assets in general matters less than how we face their reality and what that means for our faith and character.

Seasons of Scarcity

We’ve always experienced constraints because we’re finite beings.

Prior to the Fall, we didn’t face scarcity to the extent that we know it now, but we were told what our boundaries were: don’t eat the fruit of the one tree.

Good things happened when that limitation was followed. Adam and Eve fulfilled the purpose for which they (and we) were created, naming creation and praising the Creator. They lived in harmony with God.

It wasn’t until Adam and Eve decided they wanted more than their allotment that they first experienced darkness and sin.

Hardship and lack followed the Fall. Where humanity once received just what it needed in the perfect amount of abundance, it now encounters need.

As a result of the Fall, the things we want and need are harder to acquire. The process of acquiring them is riddled with sin, producing a ripple effect on everything around us, including our labor and relationships.

Suffering is now a by-product of what was originally designed to be good. Many of us feel this acutely in financial terms. Others, in relational ones. All of us desperately need relief that only comes through Christ.

What about Wealth?

Scarcity, in the sense of finitude, isn’t a death sentence. Boundaries of this sort can be a challenge, an opportunity to see how even in a world where the rules have been broken, we are being made right.

What was a violation of God’s decree and order for the world can be brought back into wholeness through persistent faith that looks at adversity, sees opportunity, hope, and Christ in it, and accumulates a pattern of Christlikeness.

Scarcity, when it pertains to our financial situations, can be extremely painful. All of us can likely point to a time in their lives when money was scarce. Some of us are still in that place.

I’m often asked how Christians are to think about Matthew 26:11, a verse which indicates that the poor will always be with us. Through innovation and rising standards of living, many who would have been poor in previous centuries can now experience an unprecedented quality of life.

Everyone, even those with fewer resources by earthly standards, is responsible to steward those resources well. It’s easy to look to others near us and envy their apparent security. But even those of us with less means are called to invest these assets in ways that glorify God and seek to bring about flourishing.

Though we may not experience true material poverty, we will always see the effects of spiritual poverty around us. And though affluence solves material needs, it doesn’t solve spiritual difficulties.

How we handle all of these difficulties matters because they’re vehicles for sanctification. Our calling is one to faithfulness, to meeting trials with the confidence that steadfastness in Christ requires of all of us.

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