We live in the richest nation on earth. It may be borrowed money, and we may be about to pay the piper for it, but Americans are simply the wealthiest society ever in history. We currently consume over half of the world’s natural resources. The poverty line in the United States is higher than the per capita income of many nations. My dog drinks cleaner water than about half of the world’s children. We spent more money last year on ice cream than NASA spent in the entire space program. That is the beauty of capitalism. The revenues generated go back into fueling the system. Carl Marx predicted capitalism would destroy itself, but you see, greed makes it work. Our greed drives us to work harder, put in more hours, educate ourselves to get higher positions, etc. And what do we do with all of that additional hard-earned cash? WE SPEND IT, creating jobs and providing increasing salaries for our friends and neighbors. So what went wrong?
As simple as I’ve made capitalism seem, there is also a law about diminishing returns. The economy cannot really go on growing at a geometric rate forever. The “American Dream” has been running on borrowed money increasingly since the 1980’s. The national debt has grown from $1 trillion in 1981, to over $10 trillion today. Each year our government operates in deficit adds to the national debt. We can’t even begin to think about paying it off until we slow down its growth rate. This same problem of spending beyond our means also applies to individual Americans, as well as banks and other financial institutions. So, when the government bailed out Wallstreet with a $700 billion loan, the government itself was already in the hole $10 trillion. And why not loan money to the very institutions that have failed to handle money correctly? Okay, so where’s the Scriptural perspective on all this you ask.
We have been blessed with material possession and prosperity for the past 200 years or so, increasingly for the past couple of generations. To whom much is given, much will be required. For the believer, the question becomes “Have we honored God with what we have?” Jesus pointed out the widow who gave her two mites, because that was all she had. If our American system of capitalism goes belly up, we can only say that God is good. As Job sat in sackcloth and ashes, he proclaim that the Lord gives, he also takes away, finally “Blessed be the name of the Lord.” We have been richly, richly blessed, and in many cases have used that prosperity to bless others. But if next week your American dollars are good for nothing but starting a campfire, we will still have so much. If the economy fails and the government collapses, for instance, we still have millions of acres of forest, oil and natural gas in the ground, clean rivers, lakes, and streams. Japan has no natural resources (unless you count fish) but they seem to do alright. Oh yeah, and we still have a God that knows our every need even before we ask, and has provided – and will continue to provide – for his people. Not even just for his people; the rain falls on the just and the unjust. God provides for humanity in general, a facet of his character known as common grace. What a good God.
During the Great Depression of the 1930’s, Americans found out there was more to our way of life than spending tons of cash and partying like it’s 1929. When the money was gone, many found out things like being alive, being with family, working hard for whatever is yours, those are important also. Perhaps more than money. I think we will get through this, and the greed machine will once again fed itself like the monster it is. But if not, we know from the first century Jews, Daniel and his contemporaries, Job, Jacob and his twelve sons, the Prophet Elijah, the Apostle Paul, and Jesus Christ himself that God provides. Has God provided for us well beyond what we need and deserve? Very much so. Will God provide for us in the future, even if it’s not economic blessing that he provides? Absolutely. And whether we are rich or have no possessions at all, we are to honor God with all that we have. God decides how and when to bless us; what we do next is our responsibility.