Well we are nearly there! No, I am not talking about Christmas, that’s still some way off. I am talking about Advent.
Advent has a lot to teach us not just about theology but about life in general, which isn’t surprising really because theology’s concern is life, both eternal and temporal.
If theology is about life, if we ‘do theology,’ through living our faith, it follows that theology can inform our approach to economic life. Indeed, it must, because theology and economics, at their very heart, ask the same basic question:
Whose interests do I serve?
Marxists will answer that our primary economic concern is to serve the state. Capitalists, by contrast, will suggest that in serving self we better the lot of everyone. ‘My good’ becomes a ‘public good.’
People of faith aspire to serve the Kingdom of God (which necessitates serving each other).
In the West Marxism is widely discredited. But, does this leave capitalism as the only answer? The contributors to Theonomics suggest not, arguing that capitalisms biggest error is to assume that financial capital and human capital are on-in-the-same. The Bible teaches that this is not so. The Rich Man (in the Parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus – Luke 16, 19-31) made this mistake and look where it got him!
Yet switch on the T.V. or go into the shops and you will be encouraged (or should I say manipulated) to believe that your human value is directly proportionate to your ability to consume. Consider the strap lines: ‘Because you’re worth it.’ ‘Just do it.’ And so on. And if you can’t just do it because you haven’t got the wherewithal there is a whole industry just waiting to lend you money; ‘praying’ on your vulnerability, your need to consume (and mine).
So what can Advent teach us? Simply this; the virtue is often in the waiting. Advent reminds us of an ancient economic value, one held dear by Adam Smith, ‘deferred gratification.’
Advent says ‘yes, you are worth it,’ and ‘if you wait your greatest need will be answered in the form of a gift.’ Advent goes further and suggests that the gift is a collective gift, given for the benefit of all humanity. Advent asks us to spend some time reflecting on the value of the ultimate gift and, whether we are prepared to use the gift as an act of service, in the full knowledge that the value of the gift to its recipients grows as it is shared.
Now that is a different way of considering the economic question.
Let me finish with a prophecy from the Cree Native Americans:
Only after the last tree has been cut down,
Only after the last river has been poisoned,
Only after the last fish has been caught,
Only then will you realise that money cannot be eaten
If you would like a copy of Theonomics please do be in touch! Theonomics is an edited book (by me!) and includes a series of interesting reflections: +Alan Wilson and Rosey Harper’s reflection on the Rich Man and Lazarus is recommended as ‘an Advent Read.’