Been a while since I have posted here. I have been writing… Just completed the fourth of a proposed six-series set of book(lets). Below is the opening paragraphs, followed by the closing paragraphs, from the third volume and a chapter entitled, ‘A necessary chapter’. This volume seeks to engage with some practical areas of society, so the first chapter was on the Arts, others are on Health and Education, Business (as Unusual) and the Media.
A chapter on the arts was a nice gentle way to highlight how any communication needs more than words to bring about change. In that chapter I said that art has often been commodified, becoming the collector’s piece, sometimes because of a deep appreciation of the art but often because of the perceived investment value. One piece bought for monetary reasons while other artists, who put their heart and soul into something (not to mention many hours), cannot make a living from their gift to society. It leads me to this chapter, a necessary one, on money, work and value.
The archaeologists report that between the 10th and the 8th century BC there were many economic changes in the land of Israel. Over those two centuries a huge discrepancy grows between the size of houses. We might view it that prosperity abounded and that this was evidence as to how God had blessed, but the 8th century prophets viewed it very differently. This is the rise of the critical voices of the prophets who connected social inequality to a faithlessness to the covenant. A poignant example is in Amos 4:1-4,
Hear this word, you cows of Bashan on Mount Samaria,
you women who oppress the poor and crush the needy
and say to your husbands, “Bring us some drinks!”
The Sovereign Lord has sworn by his holiness:
“The time will surely come
when you will be taken away with hooks,
the last of you with fishhooks.
You will each go straight out
through breaches in the wall,
and you will be cast out toward Harmon,”
declares the Lord.
Go to Bethel and sin;
go to Gilgal and sin yet more.
Bring your sacrifices every morning,
your tithes every three years.
Continuing to tithe and sacrifice in the appointed way was exposed as a farce as there was no justice, no semblance of an egalitarian society. In the life of Israel the law stipulated an intentional levelling through the system of Sabbath, the seventh year Sabbath and a radical Jubilee every fiftieth year when there was a reboot to the whole of society.
Before wading in to some of these major issues a gentle proviso that I will try and pick up in a later chapter. The gentle proviso is, ‘but we have to be practical.’ Agreed! We are not looking for something that is perfect for we wait for the day ‘when the perfect comes’; we live in a fallen world and in that world we have to learn how to compromise. The compromises that we are to be involved in though are to be redemptive. Redemption does not bring us to perfection in the immediate but re-aligns us so that there is a before and an after, so that we are not left the same, and the after is better than the before. Jesus quoted the Scripture that ‘the poor you will have with you always’ (John 12:8 quoting Deut. 15: 11), and that surely is true.
However, we cannot use it as if Jesus intended us to be unmoved or inactive about inequalities. The Scripture that Jesus quoted, Deut. 15: 11 says:
There will always be poor people in the land. Therefore I command you to be openhanded toward your fellow Israelites who are poor and needy in your land.
There is a reality that there will always be those who experience poverty, and in the light of that there has to be a spirit of generosity, for such was the commandment God gave them. The wider passage exhorts us to be generous, to cancel debts, to help liberate and to truly work toward the goal of eradicating poverty.
The gospel sets out the eschatological focus, and then deals with the present in both real and redemptive terms. It does not call us to live with a utopian vision, nor does it allow us to be passive. The ekklesia is present in the world to bring about change, and we are in a world that is all-but a runaway train hellbent on destruction. The original sin of consumerism, of moving boundaries for personal gain has to be addressed. This chapter is focused on money (or maybe better put as Mammon), but it could equally address the ecological crisis which is yet another sign that we have, as a race, been consistently moving boundary markers for personal gain.
The age to come, the one we are preparing for, and the one that we are preparing the materials for, will not be an age when there will be segregation along financial lines. Yet this age has increasingly sown into that financial divide. In closing this chapter, one that had to be written, let me simply ask how we should best sow into that glorious future. If I am privileged to own my own house should I pursue an even bigger stake in bricks and mortar? Should I look to store up more for myself with a pension scheme that will only increase the money distortions of society? Should I look to leave money to my descendants so that they might have the potential of moving further up the scale than I was able to?
Hard questions? Or looking at the reality that there is an age to come and how should we live in that light of that?
What remains clear is the concept of simply encouraging believers to rise to the top 3% of the mountain of influence without any critique of the existence of the ‘mountain’, could indeed release an influence, but the influence might not be an influence for the kingdom. The mountain remaining is not a signpost of the age to come.
We do not live in a perfect world and we await the age to come. While living in the in-between time, while we inhabit this imperfect world, we have to make compromises, yet we cannot simply compromise while refusing to look at the issues that pollute our world. Mammon and consumerism have been here since the beginning, but will not be here at the end. We live in between those two points. If we allow ourselves to be dragged back then, for sure, we are not of those who are contributing to the transformation of this world, and the preparation of the next.