CultureWatch

Bill Muehlenberg's commentary on issues of the day...

Thoughts on the Global Financial Crisis. Part Two.

Oct 14, 2008

The current global financial crisis is affecting many of earth’s inhabitants. Indeed, most of our 6 billion plus people will feel its effects either directly or indirectly. It certainly is shaking things up, and it is not clear if and when things will get back to normal (if there is such a thing as normal in this case).

It is certainly possible that this financial crisis can be seen as the judgment of God. We cannot know this for certain, but a good case can be made that this might be so. That was the subject of the first part of this article. In this second part I want to refer to another clear teaching of Scripture, namely that God quite often will use hardship and adversity to get our attention.

And given what hardship and adversity this current financial crisis is having on so many people, it could well be the case that God is in fact quite involved in the whole scenario. It may well be his way of getting the attention not only of those who do not know God – and who very much do need to know him – but of those who do. God loves his own people too much to allow them to put anything in the way of a love relationship with him.

Thus he may well be using this crisis as a means of freeing us all from our false gods and false securities, and getting us back to where we should be: with our eyes steadfastly fixed on him. Indeed, God seems quite prepared to use any and every means to rouse us out of our slumber, to prick our consciences, to warn us of dangers ahead, and to bring us back to himself.

Scripture is quite clear as to this process of God. It is simply part of his nature to woo us back to himself, and if need be, to use the big stick to get our attention. God is far too committed to us to allow us to wander away from him, and he is more than willing to use adversity – including economic adversity – to get us back to where we belong.

There are many passages which speak to this truth. Let me just focus on one. The entire book of Judges is an obvious example of this. The book describes several centuries of Israel’s history, and is replete with stories of divine judgment used on a wayward people. There is a recurring cycle of events recorded here: sin and apostasy, oppression and servitude, supplication and cries to Yahweh, deliverance and freedom. Numerous examples of this fourfold pattern are given throughout the book.

Judges 2:11-19 is the first case of this sad pattern, repeated so often in this book. It tells of how Israel forsook Yahweh and went after other gods. As a result, God handed them over to raiders who plundered them. Israel is unable to defeat them, so in their distress they cry out for help, and God raises up judges, or deliverers, to get them out of their predicament. But then the whole sorry affair is played out all over again soon thereafter.

As Arthur Cundall comments, the judges’ “influence was short-lived. The Israelites had short memories and when the immediate crisis was over they forgot both their earlier misery and the state of temporary repentance which it had induced. Their ‘turning to the Lord’ was thus a superficial expedient.”

The really tragic thing about the message of Judges is how hard-hearted Israel is, and how slow they are to see their need of Yahweh. When things are going smoothly, they have no need of their Lord. They quickly degenerate into sin and idolatry. It is only in their oppression and misery that they finally turn to Yahweh.

As Paul House remarks, “There is no movement toward Yahweh until the people have been oppressed by Yahweh through the foreign nations. When all else fails, Israel turns to God.”

The sad truth is, we are no different today. We too can just coast along as believers. We are quite happy to pursue our trivial pursuits, and offer only half-hearted commitment to Christ. It is only when things really start to hot up, as in a world-wide financial crisis, that we finally start calling out to God, and start thinking about what is really important in life.

The message of Judges is really the message of the church. We are in the same boat. We are just as bad as Israel was. And the question must always be, what will it take for us to wake from our slumber, and quit our foolish games, and start getting serious about our Christian discipleship?

It is clear that God can either bring about difficult circumstances, or at least use them, to get his people’s attention, to snap them out of their stupor, and to realign them with himself and his word. Scripture has plenty of examples of this.

In the light of such divine dealings with his people, we can rightly ask if the current global financial crisis is something either orchestrated by God or at least used by God to get us to wake up and return to him.

The only problem is, will we call upon God only to get us out of this financial crisis, and go back to business as usual, or will we allow this shaking to really get ourselves back to where we are meant to be. Recall the words mentioned about Israel under the judges: “when the immediate crisis was over they forgot both their earlier misery and the state of temporary repentance which it had induced”.

As Cundall goes on to explain, “How easy it is to use Almighty God as a kind of emergency, crash-aid service! Gratitude for deliverance, both for Israel of old and the spiritual Israel of today, ought to be expressed in lifelong dedication (cf. Rom. 12:1ff).”

There are two responses believers can have to this financial crisis. One is to seek God’s help so that the crisis will finish quickly and we can get back to doing what we were doing before.  Or we can see this as a divine wakeup call and a warning from our heavenly father that we really need to get our priorities straight here. There can be no return to ‘business as usual’. It is time to start getting serious with our Lord.

And I suspect that until we do start getting serious, this financial mess may drag on for quite some time, or be repeated all over again in the very near future.

[1103 words]

9 Responses to Thoughts on the Global Financial Crisis. Part Two.

  • Bill, what has this got to teach us about the so-called prosperity gospel?.

    Stan Fishley

  • Thanks Stan

    It’s a good question. I have discussed the prosperity gospel here: https://billmuehlenberg.com/1998/09/08/silver-and-gold-have-i-none/

    While wealth may have been one of the many quite material blessings for Israel in the OT, it is nowhere guaranteed to believers in the NT. I discuss this briefly in Part One of this article. If we make the faulty assumption that wealth is always a sign of God’s approval, then we would have to say people like Bill Gates or George Soros are super-Christians, while people like you and me are clearly infidels. For that matter, Jesus would be an unbeliever as well, given his very low economic status. One’s financial position in life is certainly no indication of one’s spirituality or one’s right standing with God.

    Bill Muehlenberg, CultureWatch

  • Hi Bill,

    While the crisis will force many of us to tighten our belts and perhaps opt for a simpler life with less emphasis on the material, it is not affecting everybody equally. In America it is mainly those on the lower rungs of the economic ladder who are hurting most. While greedy overpaid (and incompetent) finance execs may have lost part of their stock portfolios, many have escaped with millions of dollars in termination benefits. Meanwhile those who were conned into unsustainable teaser loans have lost everything. And as companies collapse because of the economic slowdown and lack of credit finance, it’s the employees who will suffer most. Those of us who still have good jobs (thankfully mine is in Australia and still reasonably secure) may have lost value in our retirement funds but we’ll survive OK.

    Similarly with Hurricane Katrina and the Asian tsunami, it was the poor who suffered most. And amazingly it is the poor who are often the most fervent believers.

    These thoughts cause me to question your view that God uses crises as a wake-up call. Those who most need the wake-up are least likely to hear the alarm, while struggling folk who fervently worship God are forced to suffer even greater heartache and hardship. The pain seems to be shared most unjustly.

    Juliana Simbroski,Darwin

  • Thanks Juliana

    Yes not all will be affected by the crisis, and not all will be affected equally. And in one area – that of investments, etc – I would have thought that it was not the poor who suffered the most, but those who can afford to play the game in the first place: those with money to make investments, opt for share portfolios, get into stocks and bonds, and so on. Not too many poor people can get involved with such things as far as I know. So there will be a mix of rich, poor and those in between who will suffer from this sort of financial crisis.

    And of course I did not say this is God’s judgment or wake-up call. I merely said it could well be. And I find plenty of Scriptural examples of such things. We may not like the fact that poor people – or any people – suffer in a crisis, but that is what tends to happen in a crisis. So the real question is, can and does God use a crisis for his purposes?

    There is no question that the Bible says exactly that. Of course this is not the place to enter into the much bigger debate as to whether things simply happen in this world capriciously, randomly, by chance, with no overriding rhyme or reason, or whether there is a God who in one sense or another is in control of what happens on planet earth, and who at least can use these events to serve his purposes.

    And what is your implication about the poor? Are you implying that God has no interest in the spiritual condition of the poor – whether a believer or non-believer? That being poor somehow exempts one from the dealings of God, even if those dealings involve chastisement, discipline, refining or purifying?

    Jesus told us that God makes his sun to shine on the good and the evil, and the rain to fall on the just and the unjust, This is God’s common grace. It applies to all mankind. And often when God’s judgments fall, everyone is on the receiving as well – both rich and poor. This was true on many occasions of divine judgment, whether during the flood, or the judgments on Egypt, or the fall of Israel, or the destruction of Jerusalem, and so on. It was not just the wealthy who suffered in these situations, with the poor being left off the hook for some reason.

    I have no problem in believing that God can orchestrate the big picture events of life, while also being able to have things tailor-made for individuals as well. He can both look after the big picture, as well as deal with the fine details.

    Again, I make no claims as to what exactly is going on spiritually with this crisis. But I do not doubt for a moment that God allows everyone – regardless of their economic status – to be drawn to him, and often a way he does that is through our trials and tribulations, whatever form they may take.

    Bill Muehlenberg, CultureWatch

  • Hi Bill,
    Thank you for you article, it has been very helpful and insightful. I was wondering if you could say that maybe God’s lesson is to rid us of our greed and help the poor at the same time? I have spoken to an economist and he thinks that if we took the money that, for example is being used in the war, and gave it to the poorer people in, say Africa, that too would restart the economy. I was just wondering on your thoughts on this.

    Niki Brent

  • Thanks Niki

    Yes I think you could be right on both counts: God is trying to speak to us about our greed, and he is wanting to remind us of our obligations to the poor.

    Bill Muehlenberg, CultureWatch

  • Niki:

    I have spoken to an economist and he thinks that if we took the money that, for example is being used in the war, and gave it to the poorer people in, say Africa, that too would restart the economy.

    As Kenyan economics expert, James Shikwati, explains, foreign aid to Africa “does more harm than good.” Shikwati’s plea to western governments and aid organisations is “…for God’s sake, please just stop!” [“For God’s Sake, Please Stop the Aid!” Der Spiegel, 4 July 2005] He continues:

    Such intentions have been damaging our continent for the past 40 years. If the industrial nations really want to help the Africans, they should finally terminate this awful aid. The countries that have collected the most development aid are also the ones that are in the worst shape. Despite the billions that have poured in to Africa, the continent remains poor…Huge bureaucracies are financed (with the aid money), corruption and complacency are promoted, Africans are taught to be beggars and not to be independent. In addition, development aid weakens the local markets everywhere and dampens the spirit of entrepreneurship that we so desperately need. As absurd as it may sound: Development aid is one of the reasons for Africa’s problems. If the West were to cancel these payments, normal Africans wouldn’t even notice. Only the functionaries would be hard hit. Which is why they maintain that the world would stop turning without this development aid.

    Shikwati adds:

    When there’s a drought in a region of Kenya, our corrupt politicians reflexively cry out for more help. This call then reaches the United Nations World Food Program—which is a massive agency of apparatchiks who are in the absurd situation of, on the one hand, being dedicated to the fight against hunger while, on the other hand, being faced with unemployment were hunger actually eliminated. It’s only natural that they willingly accept the plea for more help. And it’s not uncommon that they demand a little more money than the respective African government originally requested. They then forward that request to their headquarters, and before long, several thousands tons of corn are shipped to Africa…and at some point, this corn ends up in the harbor of Mombasa. A portion of the corn often goes directly into the hands of unscrupulous politicians who then pass it on to their own tribe to boost their next election campaign. Another portion of the shipment ends up on the black market where the corn is dumped at extremely low prices. Local farmers may as well put down their hoes right away; no one can compete with the UN’s World Food Program. And because the farmers go under in the face of this pressure, Kenya would have no reserves to draw on if there actually were a famine next year. It’s a simple but fatal cycle.

    In relation to the AIDS ‘epidemic,’ Shikwati observes:

    AIDS is big business, maybe Africa’s biggest business. There’s nothing else that can generate as much aid money as shocking figures on AIDS. AIDS is a political disease here, and we should be very skeptical…Millions of dollars earmarked for the fight against AIDS are still stashed away in Kenyan bank accounts and have not been spent. Our politicians were overwhelmed with money, and they try to siphon off as much as possible. The late tyrant of the Central African Republic, Jean Bedel Bokassa, cynically summed it up by saying: “The French government pays for everything in our country. We ask the French for money. We get it, and then we waste it.”

    With respect to material assistance from western countries, Shikwati asks:

    Why do we get these mountains of clothes? No one is freezing here. Instead, our tailors lose their livelihoods. They’re in the same position as our farmers. No one in the low-wage world of Africa can be cost-efficient enough to keep pace with donated products. In 1997, 137,000 workers were employed in Nigeria’s textile industry. By 2003, the figure had dropped to 57,000. The results are the same in all other areas where overwhelming helpfulness and fragile African markets collide. It would be helpful if the aid organizations were to pull out.

    [Thanks to A Biblical View of Economics and Industrial Relations by Andrew Kulikovsky]

    Jonathan Sarfati, Brisbane

  • The Cycle of Civilization
    Man begins his existence in bondage, and rises:
    from bondage through spiritual faith,
    from spiritual faith to courage,
    from courage to liberty,
    from liberty to abundance,
    from abundance to selfishness,
    from selfishness to complacency,
    from complacency to apathy,
    from apathy to dependency,
    from dependency back into bondage.
    -Clarence Manion, dean of Notre Dame law school (1941-1952) as quoted in “In whom do you trust?”

    “The one thing we have learned from history is that we don’t learn from history.” Sir Winston Churchill.

    Annette Nestor

  • Thanks Annette

    This is the version I have been using:

    The average age of the world’s greatest democratic nations has been 200 years. Each has been through the following sequence:
    From bondage to spiritual faith.
    From faith to great courage.
    From courage to liberty.
    From liberty to abundance.
    From abundance to complacency.
    From complacency to selfishness.
    From selfishness to apathy.
    From apathy to dependency.
    And from dependency back again into bondage.
    Can we escape this fate?”
    (A letter from Lord Macaulay to an American friend, May 23, 1857)

    Bill Muehlenberg, CultureWatch

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