I’ve been thinking about the economy lately, more than I typically do. I usually don’t spend a lot of time reading the business pages or listening to business commentary on TV, but it’s drawn my interest lately. I know the reason: it’s because of the conflicting speculations of various economists about the current state of our economy and likely scenarios for the near future..
Some are saying that our economy is due for a downturn after a longer than typical period of expansion. Many of these same experts suggest that current and future trade wars between nations are certain to contribute to this downturn; they are projecting continued increases in interest rates and job losses in industries most affected by the imposition of tariffs.
Other economists and financial experts are predicting the exact opposite, saying that the economy is strong enough to absorb the impacts of the tariffs, that the Federal Reserve will keep inflation in check, and that continued growth is likely because other economic indicators point in that direction.
Maybe some of this is outside of your interest level or what you deal with or care about on a day-to-day basis, but hang-in with me. There is a point.
Thinking about these things reminds me of a recent blog post by Richard Rohr1 in which he talks about the difference between what he calls the “Economy of Scarcity” which is the economic basis for virtually every nation in the world, including ours, and the “Economy of Abundance” which marks the Kingdom of GOD. In his post, Rohr says that world economies operate on the belief that there is only so much of everything to go around. Resources are limited, and a necessary aspect of reality is that those who gain control of the largest amounts of these scarce resources are positioned to dictate how the world operates. This line of thinking is a perfect reflection of a perverted golden rule: “Them that has the gold rules.”
A consequence of this is that institutions (and some people) work to garner and control as much of these scarce resources as they perceive are needed to support the agendas they value. In an ideal scenario, the agenda would be to benefit the common good of all, but too often, the common good has not been the primary agenda. A pattern in human history shows that the hoarding of resources has been paralleled by the hoarding and use of power needed to protect those resources and the ability to control them. The overflow has been conflicts of various levels of intensity resulting at every level of human society. Exclusivity, elitism, structures of haves and have nots, caste and class systems, and a number of isms are by-products of these concerted activities to control and distribute wealth in inequitable ways.
Fr. Rohr points to the “Economy of Abundance” exhibited by Jesus as a rebuke of the “Economy of Scarcity.” One example he cites is the feeding of the multitudes found in Matthew 14 and Luke 9. It’s been estimated that somewhere in the area of 12,000 to 15,000 people (the count of 5,000 refers to the men present) had been following Jesus on this occasion, and there was a need for them to eat. Jesus instructed His disciples to feed all of these people. They were dumbfounded and replied “We have only five loaves and two fish,” which they had gotten from a young boy. We all know what Jesus did (or I assume you know; if not please read the account in the Bible).
If we lay aside, for a moment, the miraculous aspect, and focus on the difference between Jesus and His disciples, we see the two mental models at work. The mental model of the disciples was an “Economy of Scarcity:” “We only have…That’s all there is…There’s only so much to go around…Nothing close to meeting everyone’s need can happen here and now.” Jesus’ mental model was centered in the Kingdom of GOD, where there is never a shortage, there’s always more than enough…and that’s what was witnessed that day, for after all the people were filled there was enough left over to fill twelve baskets. There was abundance.
Another example is that of the “Rich Young Ruler” (Matthew 19) who approached Jesus one day wanting to know the path to eternal life. After some back and forth, Jesus told him to sell all his possessions, give them to the poor, and then follow Him (Jesus). The man balked, and left dejected because he had an attachment to his material wealth that would not (1) allow him to give it to those who had little or no wealth, and (2) place his trust in the One who knows no lack and whom all of Christianity (and Judaism along with Islam) claims is the Lord of all creation.
I admit, I’m still mulling over this, wondering how much of my life has been limited by an assumption that the “scarcity” model is the only model or the right model. I think about that, but I also think about whether the “abundance” model is beyond my reach as long as I’m still earthbound, or if my faith is just too small.
I need to be clear here: I am not driven by a longing for a kind of prosperity that manifests itself in gaining material abundance, particularly as a sign of GOD’s favor. I reject that as theologically and biblically unsound. I think it’s just another way of reinforcing the “Economy of Scarcity” model where “faith” is used to seek my portion of material gain. Jesus and His disciples were still poor men, by the world’s standards, after the feeding of “the 5,000” and the subsequent feeding of “the 4,000” (see Mark 8).
When Jesus spoke of having come to “give life and give it more abundantly” (John 10:10), He was referencing abundance in a Kingdom context where there is an abundance of mutual love and peace and freedom from all sources of internal and external domination and where no one has to go without so that someone else can have more than they need. My term for that is “Economy of Enough.” Isn’t this the heart of Matthew 6:19-34 where Jesus speaks on earthly versus heavenly treasure and the foolishness of worry?
Still, I confess I’m trying to work through this and am not settled yet. Perhaps I need more of what Paul discusses in Romans 12:1-2 (transformation of my mental models). Perhaps I need more of the Holy Spirit power that enables GOD to do exceeding abundantly more than I ask or think…according to the power at work in us (Ephesians 3:20).
In the meantime, I’ll try to be open to new ways to give myself away. GOD is worthy of that.
- Rohr, Richard, “Scarcity or Abundance.” https://mail.google.com/mail/u/0/#search/richard+rohr/164692d659020060. July 5, 2018.
© Byron L. Hannon, 2018. All rights reserved for text content.