Amidst the perplexing world of economics I came across this piece which is worth reflecting on.
The past months have seen the most chaotic and severe malfunction of the banking system since the 1920s, writes Sabina Alkire as she offers a Christian perspective on the economic climate.
Billions of pounds have been wiped off stock markets worldwide, and Governments throughout the world acknowledge that the financial system is on the verge of meltdown.
The dismay of the media has been evident in their language. The Wall Street Journal spoke of ‘financial carnage’ and derivatives as ‘weapons of mass destruction’; The Financial Times of ‘hurricanes’ and ‘shifting tectonic plates’. As people who read the papers and watch the news in the presence of the living God, we are now in a position to reflect on money, and our attitudes towards it as Christians.
And the fundamental point is that we need not be terrified; as people of faith we need never be terrified ‘for nothing can separate us from the love of God’.
Objectively, there are legitimate causes for concern. We genuinely do not know the impact that the crash will have on the economy and our lives. It may pass us by, or it may re-chart our days. Terror comes from that uncertainty and fear blended with a loss of control. We don’t even know if we will understand what has happened. So we pause to listen beyond the media, into the stillness. The dominant view, portrayed by the media is that the crash is totally unrelated to matters of faith and prayer, and to the habits of God. It is a malfunction of a human system because of human error. Is this accurate? If true, we would have one part of our life in which we could live as persons of faith – family, justice, church – and a different part, not lived under the shadow of the living God, where we would make necessary decisions on savings and investments, pensions and mortgages. We have fallen into this habit of interior division as a society – but do we need to?
All of you will know of the buses and taxis in developing countries decorated with Jesus or a cross to remind the driver and passengers that the vehicle remains under divine review. That may seem superstitious, but underlying it is an important acknowledgement. For our faith does not recognise a total divide; it teaches that God’s will and purpose and wisdom extends with piercing relevance across all our lives, relational and financial. In Proverbs we are urged to seek wisdom and understanding ‘for her income is better than silver, and her revenue better than gold’. The psalmist echoes the priority of God’s wisdom: ‘The law of your mouth is better to me than thousands of gold and silver pieces.’
So the first point is that if the economy is not cut off from the living God, then we need not be afraid, for the wisdom we have known is and will be true. A second point is rather more mundane: even if the economy is coming down around our ears, we will still come to church. It’s what people do in crises. We come because at church we still have one another, and we help and hope and pray together and find a way through. We will remember too those who are not merely worried, but perched on the margins of survival. We know we are not alone, and together we are strengthened and encouraged to reach out in faith and love and service – not close down in terror and dismay.
The third point is that if wisdom is true, then it may have some insights into this situation we can draw upon. Some Christians are interpreting the financial downturn as a divine tantrum about greed and materialism by an emotionally unstable God. I do not agree, but I think we have some serious correcting to do, and that human excess has directly created the present situation.
At the heart of the problems is not greed but denial. Financiers wanted to believe the numbers; but the numbers were wrong. The system failed because in the end truth prevailed. Going forward, we need to encourage and reward truth rather than denial. Paul’s letter to the Corinthians describes how he hides nothing: ‘We refuse to practise cunning or to falsify God’s word; but by the open statement of the truth we commend ourselves to the conscience of everyone in the sight of God.’
One of the reasons that people believe the economy was distanced from God is that it appeared that a different set of rules operated there, where lies were acceptable, ambition was required, and cunning alone deserved reward.
But it was not so; there is one wisdom, stretching across the whole of life. And there is life in such wisdom.
The Revd Sabina Alkire is Director of the Oxford Poverty and Human Development Initiative, an economist and an associate priest.