As this page is being written, no-one can foresee the future facing the world’s economies. Businesses can’t get the funds they need to stay in operation, individuals are denied credit, orders dry up, jobs disappear and families lose their homes as repossessions mount. Around the world, stock markets have plunged and millions are losing their pensions and their savings. Irresponsible lending, risky dealings in the world of finance, are now taking their awful toll for billions of people.
Just a few months ago, few would have believed it possible. Such events would have seemed like fantasy – quite incredible, something that just doesn’t happen.
Yet now it’s real, and after a period of relative security all bets are off.
In such a time, the warnings that echo down the centuries from the Bible writers sound all too relevant and all too true. More than three thousand years ago, the law of ancient Israel forbade the charging of interest to fellow citizens (as Islamic law still does), and laid down rules that if followed, would have avoided the concentration of wealth in too few hands. Time and again the Old Testament prophets and New Testament writers warned against greed. Listen to Paul, the great missionary: “What did we bring into the world? Nothing! What can we take out of the world? Nothing! So then, if we have food and clothes, that should be enough for us. But those who want to get rich fall into temptation and are caught in the trap of many foolish and harmful desires, which pull them down to ruin and destruction. For the love of money is a source of all kinds of evil. Some have been so eager to have it that they have wandered away from the faith and have broken their hearts with many sorrows.” (1 Timothy 6 v 7-10, Good News Bible)
Most eloquently of all, the words of Jesus: “Watch out and guard yourselves from every kind of greed; because a man’s life is not made up of the things he owns, however rich he may be.” (Luke 12 v 15, Good News Bible)
If there’s a silver lining to the economic cloud, it’s perhaps the reminder that what really matters isn’t money or what it can buy. Life, health, families and communities, people who love and value you and whom you can love and value too – these are what really count. Integrity, honesty, a hope for the future based on solid evidence that the Christian gospel works and on a God who keeps His promises all through history – these too are valuable beyond measure. The best things in life have no price tag.
Of course, all this has a consequence. In tough times, Christians have an obligation to support and help each other – putting into practice the teaching and advice of those same Bible writers. In fact, generosity to others is an obligation made clear right from the early Old Testament onwards – fair sharing of resources was and is a requirement, because they’re all gifts from God and intended for the good of all His children. So in a recession (and even outside a recession!), those who are less badly affected – those with jobs, those without crippling mortgages, those with final salary pensions – are going to have to dig deep to help out those who don’t enjoy such advantages. They’re going to have to be very sensitive too: otherwise, pious advice from the financially secure to those struggling to pay the bills will be more hurtful than helpful. They might do better to keep quiet and reach for the cheque book.
And looking beyond the current crisis, in the long term Christians have the reassurance that the ultimate future of the world depends on the God who made it, not the financiers and the politicians who have so often let the rest of us down. In fact, the Bible predicts that economic turmoil, destruction of wealth and the breakdown of trading and business relationships, will be among the signs of the final climax to history. Along with a political confrontation that centres not on Wall Street but on Jerusalem, such a crisis will be among the events that culminates in the physical return of Jesus Christ, to bring about a world that’s no longer ruled by human greed.
Of course, to many that sounds too much to accept. Few would believe it possible. These events would seem like fantasy – quite incredible, something that just doesn’t happen.
Just a moment. Haven’t we said something like that before?