Economics 101

Why the Image of God Matters for Understanding Economics

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The first question the Westminster Longer Catechism asks is,

What is the chief and highest end of man?

The answer, drawn from scripture, says,

Man’s chief and highest end is to glorify God, and fully to enjoy him forever.

In a way that is perhaps surprising, we can do these things—glorify God and enjoy him forever—in a particular way through the discovery and sharing of economic truth.

If we cannot pursue economic understanding in a way that glorifies God, we should indeed close up that intellectual shop. Important biblical truths, however, direct us to view sound economic principles as part of the created order. Rather than distracting us away from glorifying God, they become the very vehicle by which we behold his glory all the more.

Economics and General Revelation

One of the chief ways God communicates his glory to us is through his works. Theologians call this general revelation. The Apostle Paul taught that Gentiles who had not been gifted with the Old Testament scriptures still clearly perceived God’s invisible attributes, such as his eternal power and divine nature, because God had shown these attributes to them in his works (Rom. 1:19–20). The Psalms teach that the heavens speak to us by declaring the glory and righteousness of God (Ps. 19:1; 97:6).

Dr. Brian Baugus helpfully reminds us of the many blessings made possible to us through market activity and rightly exhorts us to contemplate how the market accomplishes this. The beauty of the market is one more reflection of the glory of the Creator, and of the economic laws that make the social division of labor possible. Indeed, as we observe, consider, and meditate on such laws, we see God’s glory.

As we share our understanding of these economic laws with others, we glorify God by directing people to the beauty and grandeur of his works.

Economics and the Image of God

The foundation of economic law is rooted in the Christian doctrine of man. What we study in economics is not the planets, animals, rocks, or vegetation. Rather, the object of study in economics is human beings as they interact via exchange. Sound economics, therefore, begins with a proper understanding of the nature of man.

  • The Christian view of humanity begins with the fact that men and women are created by God in his image (Gen. 1:27). We understand more about the nature of man, therefore, as we understand more about the image of God. In being made in the image of God, human beings are like God in our intellectual and moral nature. We can learn something about the nature of man by examining the attributes of God.
  • For the purposes of the subject of economics, it is sufficient to stress only a few of God’s attributes. Christians know from scripture that God thinks. In fact, we are told God’s thoughts are higher than man’s thoughts (Is. 55:8-10). Not only does God think, but he plans. God had a plan to save Christians even before the foundation of the world (Eph. 1:4-5).
  • Scripture also affirms that God acts. Within only the first four verses of Genesis, we learn that God created, spoke, and divided (Gen. 1:1–4). All of these are actions. Additionally, God specifically acts with a purpose. God created the sun, moon, and stars with specific ends in mind—in order to serve as signs, seasons, days, and years and to give light to the earth (Gen. 1:14-17).

Because God thinks and acts with purpose and because we are made in the image of God, we know that we are able to think and act with purpose. This Christian understanding of human beings as rational actors is the foundation of all sound economics.

Economics and Doxology

While one blog post is not long enough for a detailed exposition of economic theory, it is nevertheless true that from the biblical view of human beings as purposeful actors, we can deduce the concepts of value, cost, profit, and loss, as well as the various economic laws, such as the laws of supply and demand that constrain price determination.

For example, people use economic goods to serve various goals. Because our goods are scarce, people can only achieve some goals while others are left unfulfilled. This implies that people must evaluate and rank their goals. They must plan to use their goods and resources wisely, and act accordingly.

We naturally use whatever goods we have to serve our most highly valued goals. People naturally value goods according to the value of the goals that they serve. As the quantity of any good increases, the value of a unit of that good will be lower, other things equal. This is an example of what economists call the law of marginal utility. This law of marginal utility, in turn, is why, at the time of an exchange, people will only buy a larger quantity of a good if they are able to pay a lower price, which is a manifestation of the law of demand.

Such an understanding should promote the contemplation of the beautiful way that vast numbers of people can harmonize in peacefully fulfilling the cultural mandate. And such contemplation should, in turn, call forth doxology.

As the Psalmist says, “All your works shall give thanks to you, O Lord, and all your saints shall bless you!” (Ps. 145:10).

Editor’s note: Learn more economic principles from a biblical perspective in Be Fruitful and Multiply: Why Economics Is Necessary for Making God-Pleasing Decisions.

On “Flashback Friday” we publish some of IFWE’s former posts that are worth revisiting. This post was first published on Nov. 26, 2013.

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Photo credit: Wikimedia.

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