Can good stewards grow the economy? Globally, how do we resolve this question?
In economics, as in most things, the simple answer is usually the right answer. The answer has been staring us in the face all along: “Repent.” Repent means to turn, or return to. It involves the idea of turning from one way of thinking and living in a different way.
Biblical repentance means turning away from our own ways and returning God’s law, to Torah. Torah is like an owner’s manual that teaches us how to use and care for a device to achieve its optimum performance, reliability, and longevity. God’s law is our owner’s manual. Over and again God calls on us to live by his law “that it may go well with you” (Deut. 6:18). We know this, yet we stray, going our own way. But if we repent and return to God’s law, we’ll experience the reward of repentance—not just in the life to come, but here and now.
Economics can be understood as sociology using money. It’s the study of how people behave and respond to changing circumstances en masse (macroeconomics) or individually (microeconomics). This is measured by what they do with capital (money and possessions) and whether or not these actions are beneficial. Simply put, economics is studying human behavior. And since Torah is the owner’s manual for human behavior, Torah is our economics manual.
Having studied and applied economics both from a biblical stewardship perspective and from a secular perspective for 25 years as a commodities trader, National Association of Securities Dealers (NASD) registered representative, financial counselor, deacon, stewardship chair, and business owner, I have found that much of what passes for economic knowledge or “good ideas for our economy” is poorly informed or self-righteous, often self-serving. The economic media is full of advice presented by those who benefit financially if their advice is followed, so much so that lawmakers have enacted disclosure laws to alert the public.
Concerning ourselves with what we should or should not purchase simply because it is good—or not—for the economy, the planet, or someone’s job misses the point. Abraham tied up his own son, Isaac, preparing to sacrifice him in obedience to God. God’s call for our repentance is never conditional. It is certainly not conditional on someone’s job or on my job—or even my life. In the words of Matthew 16:26: “What good will it be for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul?”
We’re called to live in accordance with Torah—not flaunting it, but not hiding our obedience either. We can be assured that “wisdom is proved right by her actions.”
God’s abundant provision and his sovereignty are biblical principles; conservation is not. God pours out so much blessing that we haven’t room for it; God also walks us through the desert to sharpen us. The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away; may the name of the Lord be praised” (Job 1:21).
Fear is a common factor in economics, both macro and micro. Instead of letting fear guide us, we need to remember our cultural mandate to “be fruitful and increase in number,” to “fill the earth and subdue it” (Gen. 1:27). That promise doesn’t come with limits. So let’s turn away from trusting economics, science, and politics to solve our problems. Instead let us trust God’s promise: “As long as the earth endures, seedtime and harvest, cold and heat, summer and winter, day and night will never cease” (Gen. 8:22). Let’s focus on our own repentance, fearlessly trusting God’s providence and sovereignty over his creation.
Resolving the question of stewardship and the economy globally involves turning to Christ individually. Our global approach is our individual approach. “But seek first [God’s] kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well” (Matt. 6:33).
I have heard it said the church should function more like a business. My contrarian take is that businesses should function more like the church. This is the ideal—not what is, but what should be. The church should be the example, the shining city on the hill. Pastors shouldn’t look to economists for answers to our personal, national, and worldwide woes; instead, economists should look to pastors who look to Torah. Pastors lead churches, churches lead communities, and communities make the world.
Jesus came not to abolish the Torah, but to fulfill it. The answer to our plight has been right under our nose all along: “If you fully obey the Lord your God and carefully follow all his commands I give you today, the Lord your God will set you high above all the nations on earth. All these blessings will come upon you and accompany you if you obey the Lord your God. . . .” Deuteronomy 28:1-13 goes on to spell out specific ways of God’s blessing “in the city and in the country,” concluding with this promise: “If you pay attention to the commands of the Lord your God that I give you this day and carefully follow them, you will always be at the top, never at the bottom.”
The answers are found in God’s law, which points to Christ. “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near!”