God and the Bailout Plan

I received the following question in an email from a member of the congregation
Question:
I was at a fundraiser for brain cancer this weekend and I was approached by someone and asked what I thought about the financial bailout bill. After I offered my opinion and we talked about it for a few minutes, he sighed and said, “Well, it doesn’t have any eternal consequence anyway.” I joked that if we asked God what he thought about the bailout, he might say, “What bailout? Do you mean the bailout where I sent my Son to die for your sins?”
We are in the middle of an unprecedented time in the global economy. I think it is easy to get caught up in the panic and forget the ultimate goal. Until this weekend I hadn’t thought about what God would think of what is going on right now, and I fear it might be the same for many others.
I would be interested in the Bible’s perspective, and yours as a church leader, of whether our economy and the way we handle our finances does have eternal significance. I think it would be an interesting topic for a sermon or blog. What do you think?
My Response:
Thanks for the email. I think that you had a great response to your friend by reminding her or him of the importance of our faith and discipleship in all of our life and particularly at times of crisis. I also think that you have some great questions and I want to break them down first before I respond. It sounds as if you have the following questions from both my personal and a biblical experience: Does the economy have eternal significance? Does the way that we handle our finances have eternal significance? Here is what I’ve got, first a biblical perspective and then my own perspective.
While there are many different passages on money in the scripture, I want to particularly take a look at Matthew 6:19-24. Here is the text from the TNIV translation:
19 “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. 20 But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moth and rust do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. 21 For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.22 “The eye is the lamp of the body. If your eyes are healthy, your whole body will be full of light. 23 But if your eyes are unhealthy, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light within you is darkness, how great is that darkness!

24 “No one can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and Money.

My reading of this scripture is that the way that we handle our finances does have eternal consequence. If we make money an idol and place its importance above God in our lives, I believe that it is a serious issue and that we need to change directions. How we handle our finances is a matter of discipleship. Our life of faith is not separate from our life of making and spending money. I am not aware of any passages that specifically address the economy in the scripture as there was a completely different economy than it is today. Maybe someone can give some suggestions to passages that may be directly associated to the economy. Suggestions?

As far as I can understand personally, the economy is made up of the choices of individuals and groups of people. Economic conditions can make a big difference in the lives of individuals. Putting these things together the economy has an impact on our ability to live out God’s call to transform the world. The discrepancy between the richest and the poorest in the world is a tragedy.

Are the current choices of the US and other governments bringing us closer or farther away from God’s kingdom becoming real on earth? I honestly do not know. I hope and pray that good choices are being made.

What do you think?

6 thoughts on “God and the Bailout Plan

  1. Good response,

    I might also suggest that the question be turned around a bit to say, If our eternal committments were different – Would it make a difference here and now. As Adam mentioned yesterday, all off this is a result of all of us (myself included), living into a world that tells us we can have anything our heart desires, that we can in fact Store up treasures here on earth AND be ok in heaven as well. I think this crisis is showing the folly of human wisdom, and the permanance of God’s Truth.

  2. Are the current choices of the US and other governments bringing us closer or farther away from Godโ€™s kingdom becoming real on earth?

    I don’t think that a government’s choices, considered in and of itself, either brings about the kingdom of God more or less, because the kingdom of God isn’t manifested through particular geo-political machinations. (In fact, attempting to do so seems as if it could possibly be the content of one of the temptations offered to Jesus.) Rather, it seems that the kingdom of God is an interiority- the relation between the will and spirit of individual to that of God. I think that is both why Jesus spoke of the kingdom being within and how, in response to the question of the government and its power of Jesus’ day, it was ‘not of this world’. Additionally, that would seem to be why Jesus’ command was to make disciples, rather than trying to legislate a just society. Going off of Jesus’ comparing the kingdom of God to a seed or leaven or any of the other parables he uses, it seems rather that the Kingdom of God is manifested as Christ becomes present in the lives of people. That is how the kingdom of God becomes real on earth. The natural result is that the lives of those people begin to impact the society around them, which I think was illustrated fairly vividly in how Christianity spread throughout the Roman world and then through the western world.

    The question, then, in respect to the decisions of governments is whether their decisions are just or not, rather than whether their decisions are going to build the kingdom of God or not. (The purpose of government, after all, is to legislate a just society.) The former question can, at least to some extent and in regard to some decisions, be answered; the latter seems, to me at least, to be the wrong question.

  3. btw- that tea you got for me is awesome! I love it ๐Ÿ™‚ Did you get any for yourself and get a chance to try it? If not, I’ll bring some in so you can have some serenity infusion. ๐Ÿ™‚

  4. I hear what your saying monk, but I’m curious as to how the difference in polity between the Autocratic roman empire, and the egalitarian (at least theoretically) values of American society play into our calculation here. In Jesus day legislating a just society wasn’t really even a possibility for common citizens. On the other hand, as Christians in a democratic society we do have the ability to influence legislation fairly directly.

  5. Chuck – Thanks for the comment. I think you raise an important point of the folly of believing that we can store treasure here on earth and in heaven through the same means.

    deviantmonk – I appreciate your corrective and think that you are right to point out that the question could be more accurate. However, I do think that the government can help create a society that could be more receptive to the change brought about by followers of Jesus. I believe that legislating a just society would make that society more receptive to God’s kingdom. What do you think?
    PS – I did not try any of the tea and am glad that you like it ๐Ÿ™‚

  6. Chuck- I think that the context in which Jesus speaks of the Kingdom of God demonstrates fairly vividly that its coming does not happen by means of political power, as in the context in which he speaks of the Kingdom coming and growing it does so while under the thumb of the Romans. Thus, the Kingdom of God is at least theoretically distinct from the power to legislate in a political way. In fact, as the evangelium of the kingdom of God cannot be separated from Christ as its proclaimer, the Kingdom of God has Christology foremost as its foundation. One of the most counter-intuitive concepts of Christology is that, as Jesus says concerning his death, a seed cannot bring forth fruit unless it first falls into the ground and dies. It seems to me that as Christ made himself subject to the political powers of his day without asserting the same kind of over-power that government exercises in the act of governance indicates, to me at least, that the Kingdom of God is grounded foremost in the person of Christ and then the subsequent encounter of people with that person.

    Thus, I think that the ability to legislate in a quasi-(perhaps psuedo-)democratic society still does not speak to the question of the Kingdom of God. Trying to influence legislation towards moral and just ends is important, as the very reason for a government’s existence is to order society and ensure justice. Even in the Roman world the government, as corrupt or autocratic or unjust as one might view it, still served that end to some extent, as even the writers of the NT indicate by saying to pay taxes, respect the King, pray for one’s leaders, etc. Since the government doesn’t become the means to bring about the Kingdom of God, there can then exist within Christianity a seeming paradoxical tension in which Paul can tell Christians to pay their taxes while the Apologists can condemn the Emporers for their unjust actions towards Christians. I fear, however, that once political power is seen as a means to bring about the kingdom of God, it ends up bringing about a kingdom of man.

    Andrew- Possibly. I have to keep going back to Jesus who, as being the foundation- and, perhaps one might even say, the embodiment- of the Kingdom of God, met a very bloody fate and promised the same to those to whom he entrusted his message. Receptivity, as Jesus himself says, comes about by an act of God through the Holy Spirit. Theologically, grace is required to come to God. That grace is gratuitous and an act that flows from the will and gratuity of God. In the early christian period Christians had little if no political power and faced a world ambivalent, if not overtly hostile to their faith, yet through that lack of apparent receptivity Christianity forged itself and transformed society from the inside out.

    I certainly think that having a just society is important , but I guess my point of departure (which may be in semantics, I’m not sure…lol) is that the Kingdom of God isn’t realized through political structures or movements- atheistic governments have legislated (in the midst of much injustice) justice in some aspects of society as much as governments in Christian nations have. (which have had their own measures of injustice) However, it seems to me that if the Kingdom of God can be brought about in this way, then the Kingdom of God becomes realized without God. God becomes a superfluity. Then the kingdom of Gd becomes the content of whatever creed is held to by those in power.

    so yeah. that’s all I’ve got ๐Ÿ™‚ fun stuff.

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