Lunchbar: What would Jesus say about the recession?

Lunchbar today at Nottingham was on the topic of the current economic situation. For many of us, as our speaker observed, this is not just an academic question but one in which we have a personal stake. Most students are finding it harder to afford things, many of them have parents or relatives who are in difficult circumstances, some students have had to leave university as their parents cannot afford to support them. In addition, it is harder for graduates to find jobs when they leave university. So it’s a big issue.

It’s also hard to guess what God would actually say about the recession in particular, so we have to be careful. But there are some things that the Bible does say about God that might help us see what might be going on. God is completely in control of the economic situation, and has a purpose in it. Isaiah 45:7 reads:

I form the light and create darkness,
       I bring prosperity and create disaster;
       I, the LORD, do all these things.

So the recession isn’t somehow beyond God’s control – but what might God be trying to bring out of it? Without wanting to claim to have the definitive answer to that question, we can perhaps suggest three things that the recession can teach us.

First, the recession opens our eyes to the situation that many people in the world live in all the time. In the West, recessions tend to come and go, and we perhaps have got used to the idea that things tend to improve over the long run, allowing for the occasional blip. But in many parts of the world this just isn’t the case, and there is massive poverty. Compare Britain with Zimbabwe – the British unemployment rate is about 7%; in Zimbabwe it is more like 94%. The average Zimbabwean earns just $0.30 a month, several thousand times less than the average Briton. So perhaps the recession can show us a little bit of what it is like to be poor – as the majority of the people in the world are.

Second, the economic crisis shows us something of what sin is. We see it quite easily in those who are responsible for the economic crisis – those in banking and finance whose greed has led to the current crisis. We rightly feel aggrieved at this, and can see how wrong a lot of the exploitation that has gone on in the financial world is.

 

But as we recognise the sinfulness of the greed and exploitation that has gone on in the financial sector, so we too should take the opportunity afforded us by the recession to recognise that the same disease afflicts us too. Isn’t the reason that we haven’t done exactly what the bankers have done more to do with the fact that we haven’t had the power and opportunity to exploit, rather than us being morally superior? If we’re honest, we can see the potential within ourselves for exploiting others for financial gain, given the chance. So the recession also shows our own sinfulness to us and helps us to realise that we need God to create a clean heart in us and cleanse us from our corruption.

Finally, the recession can teach us that money is not everything, and is a fickle friend. The recession has shown that even those who are wealthy can easily lose their wealth; that money is an insecure source of security. People talk a lot of the comparitive risks of every investment, but even the relatively safe investments can become devalued; and in any case are no insurance against the inevitability of death. If money is not a good source of our ultimate security, then what is? Ultimately, the Christian gospel claims, it can only be found in Christ and in his Kingdom. So the recession could function to turn us to God by showing up the transience and insecurity of what we have been trusting in.

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