Panic and Prudence

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Economics is theological. How we spend our money, both individually and collectively, reveals the true nature of the god we worship. Do we worship the God of the Bible or do we worship Mammon? For consistent Christians, it should make very little difference to them whether it is Mammonism of the right or Mammonism of the left.

If we trust God with our checkbook, certain things follow. If we trust God with the public treasury, certain things follow. Now many believers know what financial trust looks like on the personal level — even if they don’t consistently follow it, they do know what personal faithfulness in financies should look like. Believers should tithe, they should be generous and overflowing to others, they should work hard, they should not spend what they don’t have, they should not steal, and so on. But what does public trust in God look like? What characteristics will corporate faithfulness have?

Frederic Bastiat put it well — “Liberty is an acknowledgement of faith in God and his works.” Flip this around and we see that no society can or will have economic liberty unless there is a robust faith in God pervasive throughout that society. If there is no faith in God, we want to get in there and manage what everybody else is doing, and liberty dies. When we have faith, we let go. When we don’t believe, we clutch, preferably through our elected representatives.

When our faith dies, and liberty necessarily dies, we then try to obscure what we have done by confusing all the terms. For example, we have a misleading and fallacious scale of “right wing” and “left wing.” But what is leftism but international socialism? What is fascism but nationalist socialism? What is contemporary “capitalism” but mercantilism (fat cat merchants and the state in cahoots) using and abusing the rhetoric of free markets? The scale of right and left is no more indicative of biblical thinking than the motion picture ratings system.

You cannot have genuinely free markets without free men, and you cannot have free men without the gospel. If you do not have the gospel, then man will get in there somehow in order to try to save himself and others. He will try to save himself by using taxes, redistribution, lobbying influence, stimulus packages, environmental regulations, land reform, cozy deals with the government, and so on, ad infinitum.

The root of our economic problems is always a lack of trust in the triune God. And infidelity of this sort always betrays itself, always gives itself away. Imagine a world without agricultural subsidies, without coerced redistribution of wealth, without protectionism, without land reform, without managed health care, without a grasping state. Note that I said “without a grasping state,” not “without a grasping state unless a ginormous defense budget is necessary,” and not “without a grasping state unless some are without health care.” I said “without a grasping state,” period. The grasping state — whether you call it right, left, or moderate — is the incarnate locus of all our modern unbelief and idolatry. We try to imagine life without our precious, and then we panic — and our panic chases us back into what we call prudence. We don’t know what liberty is, and so it scares us. We don’t know what liberty is because we don’t know what the gospel is, and we don’t know what the gospel is intended to do. Peter can’t walk on the water so long as he is holding on to the side of the boat.

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