Some good news and bad news here. The bad news first: I am not an economist or a financial guru, so I cannot provide a learned treatise as to the causes, conditions and cures of the current worldwide financial meltdown. I can’t even give you any decent advice on what to do with your various stocks, bonds, investments and superannuation: wouldn’t have a clue, in fact. So go see your local financial advisor for some real help.
But the good news is, I, like all people of faith, have a perspective on this and other things that not everyone else has. Believers do have, at least in part, access to the divine perspective on the affairs of this world. That is, we do have a God who is fully aware of, and conversant with, the happenings of our day, and we can be privy to some of that understanding.
God knows all about the financial crisis: he knows why it is happening, and he knows how it can be resolved. He knows what is in our bank accounts, and he knows how much so-called value may have been wiped off our portfolios. And he also knows how long this crisis will last. Indeed, he is fully in control of this whole state of affairs.
But the fact that God has everything under control and that nothing takes him by surprise does not imply that we have full and complete understanding of the events of the day. In Old Testament times things were a bit easier. Yahweh sent the prophets to inform his people as to what he was doing, what world events signified, and how they should live.
Indeed, there were not just the prophets informing Israel about what was going on, but we also read about the sons of Issachar. In I Chronicles 12: 32 it says that the sons of Issachar “were men which had understanding of the times, and knew what Israel should do”.
Unfortunately today we have neither the sons of Issachar nor OT prophets giving us the inside divine story of what is happening around us. Sure, God can give his people today prophetic words about various things, but a clear, sure word from God about all the events of daily life are not the usual course of events. We have to live on faith and depend on the general revelation of Scripture to guide us in our daily lives.
Thus I am not claiming any prophetic word here about this financial crisis. I am not offering a “Thus saith the Lord” on what we are witnessing around us in the financial realm. All I can offer here is a bit of sanctified common sense, and some general insights from the Word of God as I seek to throw a bit of light on this mess.
Two things can safely be said without fear of going astray: One, God can and does judge his people, and the nations. Two, God often uses adversity as a way of getting our attention, and getting us to get our priorities right. Let me look at each of these a bit further. (The second point will be discussed in a subsequent article.)
The first proposition is found throughout the entire Word of God: God judges. He judges individuals. He judges nations. He judges rulers. He judges Israel. He judges Christians. Indeed, the judgment of God is one of the most prominent themes of Scripture.
In God’s covenant with Israel, for example, he lays out clear warnings about breaking covenant with himself. If Israel obeys, then blessings will follow. But if Israel disobeys, then curses, or judgment, will follow. The main passage dealing with this covenantal relationship is found in Deuteronomy 28. There we find a detailed listing of blessings which follow obedience, and a detailed (and, interestingly, longer) listing of curses for disobedience.
These covenant conditions are mentioned quite often by the prophets. When Yahweh is about to judge Israel for some sin, the prophets remind Israel of its covenant responsibilities, and how it has broken faith with Yahweh. The judgments can take many forms, but most would be what we today call ‘acts of nature’. That is, God may use storms or floods or famine or droughts to punish his people.
And one means he uses in judgment involves the economy. God can and does judge Israel with financial hardship when they have abandoned him. Perhaps the classic passage in this regard, one which has real bite to it (and one which we need to think seriously about today), is Haggai 1:5-6:
“Now this is what the LORD Almighty says: ‘Give careful thought to your ways. You have planted much, but have harvested little. You eat, but never have enough. You drink, but never have your fill. You put on clothes, but are not warm. You earn wages, only to put them in a purse with holes in it’.”
Wow, what a passage! Does it sound familiar? “You earn wages, only to put them in a purse with holes in it.” Sounds a lot like what we have seen around the world for the past few weeks. As Pieter Verhoef comments, “The theological perspective on the word of God to the people is that their adverse economical circumstances were not the result of mere natural phenomena but were due to God’s judgment.”
Thus hitting the wallet is one tried and true way in which God judges his people when they have drifted away from him. When Israel started hurting financially, it could very quickly get back on its knees and seek God’s face.
And it is not just Israel that Yahweh judges, He judges the pagan nations as well. Indeed, large portions of the prophetic writings are devoted to the nations. These include: Is. 13-21; 23; 24; 34; Jer. 46-51; Eze. 25-32; 35; 38,39; Joel 3; Amos 1,2; Zeph. 2; and Zech. 9;12.
And it is quite interesting to note that often the same language is used, as with Israel. And often the same sins are denounced, as with Israel. And often the same judgments are pronounced, as with Israel. So it is not just God’s covenant people that God judges, but all mankind.
Now of course we might well ask, what about in New Testament times? Are not things different today? Well, yes and no. Obviously the church, for example, is not identical to Israel. The Deuteronomic covenant that we examined does not directly apply to the church. For example, the covenant had very earthly blessings and judgments. They were mainly tied up with the land of Israel. When Israel obeyed, its land was fertile, its crops productive, its livestock healthy, and it was at peace with her neighbours.
Of course the people of God in the NT have no land as such. Our blessings are in the heavenlies, as Paul tells us in Ephesians. So does that mean God is no longer in the business of judging peoples and nations today? Does that mean that the events of nature can no longer be seen as the work of God?
Well, that is not so clear. I see no reason why God has stopped using the events of nature (floods, drought, earthquakes, tornadoes, and so on) as instruments of his judgment. It is just that we do not have such a clear prophetic word about each and every natural disaster as so often occurred in the OT. Often a prophetic word accompanied a crisis back then. Sometimes it preceded the disaster, or was spoken during the disaster, or even after the disaster. But the recipients of the disaster were left in no uncertain terms as to Yahweh’s hand being in it all. It was not a fluke of nature, but the direct work of God.
Today we cannot be so sure, since we seldom have a clear word from the Lord on such specific events. Thus we cannot say with certainty that 9/11 was God’s judgment on America. We cannot say for sure that the recent earthquake in China was God’s way of judging the Chinese people. And we cannot say for certain whether the current global financial crisis is the direct judgment of God.
It could well be. Indeed, I would not be surprised at all if it were. One very good way of getting a person’s attention – whether that person is a believer or not – is to start allowing some economic turmoil to occur. Lose a few billion here and a few billion there, and that sure gets people’s attention.
It is as C.S. Lewis once remarked, “God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our conscience, but shouts in our pain: it is His megaphone to rouse a deaf world.” And the pain of financial loss certainly tends to do the trick. So I certainly believe that if this is not directly coming from the hand of God, he certainly is using it for his purposes. He wants all people to realise that faith in man is vain. Human institutions like banks and stock markets and investment houses have their place. But as soon as they become gods, then they must be countered, and for our own good.
When we trust in riches instead of the living God, we are asking for, and will get, trouble. So God in his mercy allows these shaking times to occur to get us to turn to him, and trust in him. Money cannot save us. Banks and bailouts will not save us. Gold bullion will not save us. Hiding dollars under our mattresses will not save us.
Only God can save us. So God can quite easily use a mega-money meltdown to get our attention. And that includes all of us. It can shake up unbelievers enough to hopefully get their attention, and help them to see that this life is not all there is. It can help them to start thinking about eternity, and about their own soul.
But God can also use these crunch times to wake up a dead or sleeping church. The church of Jesus Christ is without question in very great need of a profound and powerful revival. And if God needs to rattle our bank books and our wallets to get our attention, then so be it.
We Christians can be just as trusting in financial security as non-Christians can. We can worship mammon just as much as nonbelievers can. And we can think that wealth is the be all and end all just as much as nonbelievers can.
The Bible has much to say about wealth and money and possessions and riches. There are numerous warnings in Scripture about not placing our confidence, trust and security in wealth. So I think this financial crisis is a real godsend. If it can wake up some half-hearted believers, and turn around a wayward church, then it is a very good thing indeed.
It is a pity that believers could not be woken from their slumber without such drastic means. But God loves us too much to allow us to slide away from him. He cares about us too deeply to allow us to sink into idolatry and the worship of mammon. He is too committed to us to allow us to remain in a state of spiritual decay.
For our own good, God in his great mercy will take away that which we most cherish, so that we can get our priorities right, and come to see that only God should be the object of our deepest affection and utmost devotion.
Anything else – including riches – is simply a false God, which will disappoint time and time again. So if a comatose church needs a good solid financial shaking, I say, bring it on. And please don’t let up, God, until every one of your people has renounced every idol and false god in their lives, and has fully rededicated themselves to Christ and his Kingdom.