Friday, October 12, 2007

Finacial Peace 2: Biblical Economics

Prayer for Understanding: (Based on a Traditional Franciscan Blessing)

May God bless us with discomfort
at easy answers, half truths and superficial relationships
so that we may live deep within our hearts.

May God bless us with anger
at injustice, oppression and exploitation of people
so that we may work for justice, freedom and peace.

May God bless us with tears
to shed for those who suffer pain, rejection, hunger and war
so that we may reach out our hands to comfort them and
to turn their pain into joy.

And may God bless us with enough foolishness
to believe that we can make a difference in the world
so that we can do what others claim cannot be done
to bring justice and kindness to all our children and the poor.

McClaren Video – “Domesticated Jesus”

Marx is right – at least partly right. “Religion is the opium of the people.” Religion can be something that puts us to sleep, something that calms our pain without healing our disease. Religion – even Christianity – has often functioned simply as a tool of unjust systems. Religion has often helped the rich people feel better about being rich and the poor people feel better about being poor without ever challenging the systems and choices which make some people rich or poor.

Religion really is like opium. We do our religious duties, sing our religious songs, and give to our religious charities, but we don’t really expect to change the world in a meaningful way. This is one of the great failures of Christianity. In fact, this is possibly the number one reason why nonChristians reject Christianity. We have become more concerned about our religion than we are concerned about justice.

So what happened? How did we domesticate Jesus and the Bible? How did religion become our social opium? What are we missing here? We are missing three basic things: truth, hope, and obedience.

Let’s start with the truth of the Bible. What does the Bible say about economic justice? When we look at the Bible, what kind of vision do we see for a just and fair society? The basic picture of Biblical justice is that we will be a whole community in which we live together faithfully and responsibly.[1]

1. Communities of justice recognize the dignity and value of all people. Listen to how Genesis explains the creation of human beings:
God created human beings;
he created them godlike,
Reflecting God's nature.
He created them male and female.
God blessed them:
"Prosper! Reproduce! Fill Earth! Take charge!
Be responsible for fish in the sea and birds in the air,
for every living thing that moves on the face of Earth.”
(Genesis 1:27-28).

God has created us to be like him. Every human being is representative of God in the world. We share his likeness. We are participants with God in the ongoing creation and management of our world. God has given us the power to create steel and computers and airplanes. God has given us the power to develop farms, fisheries, and libraries. Every human being has dignity and meaning in God’s plan for the world. A community of justice gives every person the real opportunity to live out her God-given destiny.

2. Communities of justice meet basic needs. Listen to how Deuteronomy describes justice:

For the Lord your God is the God of gods and Lord of lords. He is the great God, the mighty and awesome God, who shows no partiality and cannot be bribed. He ensures that orphans and widows receive justice. He shows love to the foreigners living among you and gives them food and clothing. So you, too, must show love to foreigners, for you yourselves were once foreigners in the land of Egypt. (Deuteronomy 10:17-19).

The minimum standard of economic justice is that everyone has the basics: food, shelter, and clothing. We can’t have a whole and healthy community while people among us are starving or freezing or homeless. Some people – like widows and orphans – simply can’t care for themselves. A healthy community cares for the helpless.

3. Communities of justice give people the opportunity for meaningful work.

We are designed to work. We are participants with God in the creation and management of the world. After God made Adam, “he placed the man in the Garden of Eden to tend and watch over it” (Genesis 2:15). Even when the prophets talk of the ideal kingdom when God restores everything, the people still have work to do. Listen to Isaiah’s picture of the restored community:

21 In those days people will live in the houses they build
and eat the fruit of their own vineyards.
22 Unlike the past, invaders will not take their houses
and confiscate their vineyards.
For my people will live as long as trees,
and my chosen ones will have time to enjoy their hard-won gains.
23 They will not work in vain,
and their children will not be doomed to misfortune.
For they are people blessed by the Lord,
and their children, too, will be blessed.
(Isaiah 65:21-23)

In a community of Justice, everyone will have the opportunity to work, to provide for their families, and to make a meaningful contribution to the community.

4. Communities of justice give everyone access to capital. Capital is whatever we use to make money. Today capital is usually money and knowledge. In ancient Israel, where farming was the main business, capital was land. To keep things fair, God assigned an equal amount of land to each family. Listen to what the Leviticus 25 says about how a healthy community manages land as capital:

8 “In addition, you must count off seven Sabbath years, seven sets of seven years, adding up to forty-nine years in all. 9 Then on the Day of Atonement in the fiftieth year, blow the ram’s horn loud and long throughout the land. 10 Set this year apart as holy, a time to proclaim freedom throughout the land for all who live there. It will be a jubilee year for you, when each of you may return to the land that belonged to your ancestors and return to your own clan.

14 “When you make an agreement with your neighbor to buy or sell property, you must not take advantage of each other. 15 When you buy land from your neighbor, the price you pay must be based on the number of years since the last jubilee. The seller must set the price by taking into account the number of years remaining until the next Year of Jubilee. 16 The more years until the next jubilee, the higher the price; the fewer years, the lower the price. After all, the person selling the land is actually selling you a certain number of harvests. 17 Show your fear of God by not taking advantage of each other. I am the Lord your God. …

23 “The land must never be sold on a permanent basis, for the land belongs to me. You are only foreigners and tenant farmers working for me. …

26 In this way the original owner can then return to the land.

28 In the jubilee year, the land must be returned to the original owners so they can return to their family land. (Leviticus 25:8-28)

Due to bad choices or bad luck a family might have to sell their land. This would mean they would have to become hired workers, slightly better than slaves, for their neighbors. However, this unfortunate situation should not go on forever. The children should not be punished for the parents’ mistakes or problems. Every 50 years, the capital was redistributed, given back to each family group. Every 50 years, every family got the basic capital to make a decent living again.

In a community of justice, the whole community shares capital (land, money, knowledge) with every family so that every family has a fair opportunity to make a good living in the world. In a community of justice, children are not permanently held back by their parents bad luck or bad mistakes.

5. Communities of justice help people get out of debt and start again. Listen to how God asked his people to deal with debt in Deuteronomy 15:

1 At the end of every seventh year you must cancel the debts of everyone who owes you money. 2 This is how it must be done. Everyone must cancel the loans they have made to their fellow Israelites. They must not demand payment from their neighbors or relatives, for the Lord’s time of release has arrived. 3 This release from debt, however, applies only to your fellow Israelites—not to the foreigners living among you.

4 There should be no poor among you, for the Lord your God will greatly bless you in the land he is giving you as a special possession.

7 But if there are any poor Israelites in your towns when you arrive in the land the Lord your God is giving you, do not be hard-hearted or tightfisted toward them. 8 Instead, be generous and lend them whatever they need. 9 Do not be mean-spirited and refuse someone a loan because the year for canceling debts is close at hand. If you refuse to make the loan and the needy person cries out to the Lord, you will be considered guilty of sin. 10 Give generously to the poor, not grudgingly, for the Lord your God will bless you in everything you do. (Deuteronomy 15:1-10)

God asked his people to forgive all debts every 7 years! I’m not sure exactly how we’re supposed to live this out. Our economic systems today are very different and more complex, but I think the basic principle is this: Don’t let debt become a burden that crushes the poor.

6. In communities of justice, the government works to protect the poor. The Bible consistently charges governments with the responsibility to do good for all their people, especially the poor. Psalm 72 is a prayer for the king of Israel. Listen to how it begins:

1 Give your love of justice to the king, O God,
and righteousness to the king’s son.
2 Help him judge your people in the right way;
let the poor always be treated fairly.
3 May the mountains yield prosperity for all,
and may the hills be fruitful.
4 Help him to defend the poor,
to rescue the children of the needy,
and to crush their oppressors.

A good government will share the wealth of the nation with everyone by caring for the poor and needy.

OK, so let’s review this biblical picture of a community of justice. The foundation is respect for every individual as one made in the image of God. From that foundation, we make sure that everyone’s basic needs for food, clothing, and shelter are met. Beyond those basics, we adopt three basic strategies to help the poor: 1) helping them get good jobs, 2) helping them get the money or knowledge they need to be successful, and 3) helping them get out of debt. Finally, we develop a government which actively supports and protects the poor.

If we live as a community of justice like this, God promises to bless us. If we don’t live like this, we are working against God, and God has no choice but to work against us. If we oppress the poor, or if we simply keep our blessings and don’t share generously with the poor, we will find ourselves in trouble with God.

Now let’s take an honest look at our world. To do this, we’re going to need help from all of you. Our world has 6.7 billion people, but that’s a hard number to work with. For the next 5 minutes, let’s just say there are 6 billion people in the world. Let’s divide this room in to 6 groups representing the 6 billion people in our world.[2]

Now, over here, on the left, are the people from high income countries(like Korea, Japan, the USA, New Zealand, or Canada). An average person from an average high income country spends about 80,000 won[3] a day on things like food, housing, transportation, and entertainment. About 1 billion people live like this.

The next two groups are the middle class. About 2 billion people are in the middle class, and they make on average less than 10,000 won a day.

The next two groups are the poor. About 2 billion people are poor, and they try to survive on less than 2,000 won a day. They eat, but they don’t eat well or enough. They have homes, but maybe not clean water or working toilets.

The last group is the desperately poor. This group is struggling to stay alive on less than 1,000 won a day. There are many days when they don’t eat. Their water is dirty and diseased. Their children are sick. Seeing a doctor is not an option. They live in garbage dumps, shacks, huts, and on the streets.

Look at these statistics: 5/6 (83%) of the world lives on less than 10,000 won a day! ½ (50%) of the world lives on less than 2,000 won a day. 1 out of 6 people in this world lives on less than 1,000 won a day.

Let’s take one more step to help illustrate this. I need one volunteer from each income group. Let’s imagine that each of these people are going shopping today with their daily income.

Mr. Desperately Poor, with your 1,000 won, you can buy 1 roll of kimbap. That’s your breakfast. No lunch. No supper. Be sure to save the aluminum foil. You might be able to use that for something.

Mr. and Mrs. Poor, with your 2,000 won, you can buy an apple for breakfast and a roll of kimbap for lunch. No supper.

Mr. and Mrs. Middle Class. You are doing a little better. With your 10,000 won, you can buy several rolls of kimbap, some milk, an apple or two, and a book for your kids. They can probably go to school.

Now, Mrs. Rich. You are having a great day. You woke up in a nice, warm apartment. For breakfast, you stopped into McDonalds for a sausage egg McMuffin and a coffee. You took your vitamins and some medicine for your cold. You enjoyed a nice lunch at Outback with your coworkers. In the afternoon, after your big lunch, you were starting to feel a little tired, so you bought a 3,000 won cup of coffee (spending more than half the world spends all day). After work, you went shopping and picked up some groceries. You also grabbed a CD you’ve been wanting and some shoes you found on sale. Out of your 80,000 won, you had a few thousand left over, so you put that in the bank to use for later.

This is a picture of our world. Does this look fair to you? Does this look like a community of justice to you? Does this look like the picture the Bible describes? Is this what God wants for us?

Once upon a time, I met a millionaire (a man who owned a million dollars worth of cash and property). He said to me, “But I am not rich. My neighbor is a billionaire. He is rich.”
Let no one among us ever say again, “I am not rich.” This is a lie. This is a bold and terrible lie. It dishonors God. It dishonors the poor, and it deceives us all. Every person in this room is rich – very, very rich. In real life, all of us are in that far right category, spending more than 10,000 won a day. Most of us are like the average rich person, spending around 80,000 won a day. We are very, very rich, and half of the world is very, very poor. This is reality. Let’s not lie about it.

Once upon a time, I met a woman was sitting on the ground crying. She was concerned about the poor in the world, but she said to me, “Because I can’t do everything, I will do nothing.”

We have talked enough about the truth. What we need now is hope. We can’t do everything, at least not right away. But we can do something. We can do some things that will make a real difference in our world. I want to take a few minutes to share some success stories of how people have improved our world in real and significant ways.

Largely due to economic growth in developing countries, the percentage of chronically undernourished (consistently hungry) people in the developing world has fallen from 35% in 1970 to just 17% in 2002.[4] We are improving.

In the 1990’s, Tanzania (Alfred’s home country) began a nation wide nutrition program. In just three years, they cut the rate of severe malnutrition in half.[5]

“During the 1980’s and 1990’s a few inexpensive actions saved the lives of millions of children. During that time, the immunization levels in the developing world rose from 20% to about 80%.” In the early 1980’s 2.5 million children died from measles each year. By 1999, only 800,000 people got measles worldwide.[6]

The list goes on and on and on and on. We are making a difference. Together, our governments and our social agencies are changing the world.

One of the biggest things you can do to participate in this change is to vote. Vote for the people and the parties who are most likely to help the poor. Make fighting poverty your #1 voting issue.

Another big thing you can do along these lines is to connect with an organization in your home country that is working to get your government to help the poor. The best organization like this in my home country is called: “ONE.” Through the ONE organization (, I have written several letters to my congressmen asking them to vote in favor of bills to support the poor around the world. Most of the bills or amendments we have supported have carried, despite some close votes. Politicians really do listen when people speak.

These are good, but most of us need to do something smaller and more personal as well. Let me suggest three simple ways you can live a more economically just life.

  1. Limit your spending. Most of us do one simple and very unjust thing. We spend way too much money on ourselves. 1 billion people are starving, and we’re eating out and going to movies and shopping for things we don’t need. Try setting a spending limit for your entertainment or eating out. Sarah and I are using a monthly “Date Night” budget. Every Friday night when we come home, we’ll write down what we spend and make sure we don’t go over-budget.
  2. Think small. Maybe you can’t change the whole world, but you can change one person’s whole world. In a few weeks, Amanda will be talking to us about how to sponsor a child through Nazarene Compassionate Ministries ( That changes the entire future for that child. If you have a business mind, you might want to check out micro-financing. This is loaning small amounts of money to people in poor countries so they can start their own business to provide for their families. This is a perfect example of sharing capital in a biblical way. Probably the best organization for this right now is Opportunity International (
  3. Give here. This may sound like a shameless plug to get your money, but I want you to know that we are changing the world together. With the money you have given this year, we have built 4 houses for poor families in Indonesia, fed children and families in North Korea, given food and seeds to people in Africa, and given kimbap to homeless people right here in Cheonan. We are changing the world, and you are helping.

So what happened? How did Christianity become just another religious opium? What are we missing? Do you remember the three things I said we are missing? Truth, hope, and – what was that third thing? Oh, yeah, obedience.

The truth of the Bible is that God longs for us to be a global community of justice in which we care for the poor and help them to care for themselves. The truth of our world is that we aren’t doing very well at that. Half of the world lives on less than 2,000 won a day.

The hope is that we can make a difference. Recent history is showing that large scale governments and small-scale organizations and individuals are changing the world and helping the poor in significant and meaningful ways.

And what was that third thing again? Oh, yeah, thanks – obedience. That’s up to you.

[1] These points depend heavily on Ron Sider, Just Generosity, (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 2000), 49-75.

[2] The numbers that follow are rounded and estimated numbers (for the sake of illustration) from Ron Sider, Rich Christians in an Age of Hunger, (W Publishing, 2005), 2-5.

[3] 1 US $ is roughly equal to 1,000 Korean won.

[4] Sider, Rich Christians in an Age of Hunger, 3.

[5] Ibid, 8.

[6] Ibid, 14-15.

Post a Comment