12 July 2006

Biblical view on Wealth & Economy System

Lately, one student asked me this through email:
"Sir, as a Christian Lecturer, what is your view of Wealth and Free Capitalism?"

Here are my reply:

The love of money is a root of all kinds of evil.” Paul (1 Tim. 6:10)

Store up for yourselves treasures in heaven . . . . For where your treasure is, there your heart will also be.” Jesus Christ (Matt. 6:20-21)

I have heard confessions to every kind of sin—except covetousness.” A Catholic priest.

There are rich people in the Bible: Job, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob were all rich. So, later, was Solomon. The Bible teaches that it is not the amount of our wealth that matters but the way we get it, how we use it, and our ability to sit lightly to it. Paul explains (1 Tim. 6:6-9, RSV):

There is great gain in godliness with contentment; for we brought nothing into the world, and we cannot take anything out of the world; but if we have food and clothing, with these we shall be content. But those who desire to be rich will fall into temptation, into snare, into many senseless and hurtful desires that plunge men into ruin and destruction.

Again Paul says to Timothy (vv. 17-18),

As for the rich in this world, charge them not to be haughty, nor to set their hopes on uncertain riches but on God who richly furnishes us with everything to enjoy. They are to do good, to be rich in good deeds, liberal and generous.

Practicing Christians are likely to be richer than their neighbor. We are taught to work harder, be more trustworthy and responsible, and develop our talents to the full; we are not to gamble or waste our money on conspicuous consumption—it would be odd if all this did not put us ahead.

But Christians are wary, believing that no system, however good, can stay uncorrupted. The Bible has warnings and safeguards against economic power. We must always remember its warnings and who benefits from the freedom to do as they like, and who, if there are no safeguards, will suffer.

Although the economic background to Bible times were very different from our own industry society, but the Bible does lay down some quite sharp guidelines regarding economic activity. The laws were clearly aimed to pass down the capital (the land) of each family intact from generation to generation, and the laws were totally opposed to the accumulation of that capital by the rich and powerful. The legal instrument was the Law of jubilee. Every fifty years, the family farm had to go back to its original owners, and the debts run up in hard times had to be cancelled. Land was the capital of an agricultural society, and the rich were not free to corner it, adding “house to house and . . . field to field.” (Isa. 5:8).

So the biblical model was family capitalism. The family’s independence was to be protected against the state. Naboth was entitled to oppose King Ahab’s demand for his vineyard, and God punished Ahab for seizing it. Other prophets attacked the rich for using their wealth to buy off the judges and rulers. Moving to the New Testament, we find James telling Christians not to give undue deference to the rich, for “Is it not the rich who are exploiting you? Are they not the ones who are dragging you into court?” (James 2:6).

Nowhere in Christians Scriptures, OT or NT, is there any support for an open-ended capitalist system in which the rich get richer while the poor get poorer. The ideal is a society in which each family is under its won vine and its own fig tree (1 Kings 4:25; Mic. 4:4, Zech. 3:10).

Any system should be judged by its results:

1. Is it fair between citizens?
2. Does it give equality of opportunity to earn a living?
3. Does it protect us against exploitation by the rich and powerful?

No comments: