In Part I we saw that something of a balance exists between the dominion over the planet that God gave to mankind at Creation, and the corresponding stewardship that cannot be separated from it. We hear in the first few chapters of Genesis the call to creativity and production, but also the call to grasp the spiritual ownership and moral responsibility involved in the blessings God has bestowed upon us.
In their important 2008 book, Calvin and Commerce: The Transforming Power of Calvinism in Market Economies, David W. Hall and Matthew D. Burton categorically dissect and disseminate John Calvin’s writings and biblical commentaries that touch upon socio-economic and cultural issues. On page 20 they state:
God does not wish His creation to merely maintain stasis. Instead, He designed creation for growth, productivity, and maturation.
Hall and Burton then ask:
Thus, in reference to the opening chapters of the Bible, one may ask, what business (or economic) system fits with both the creation and stewardship mandates?
Any discussion among Christians on the subject of “dominion” brings to the surface the interrelationship between work and wealth. (Note: If your public school teachers or social justice comrades have succeeded, and “wealth” is too depraved a word for you, just think “fruits of your labor”). Any discussion of work and wealth should logically lead to a thoughtful exploration of what type of economic ideas, concepts, and systems most closely align with Scriptural mandates.
Especially in a free country, where the citizenry are the “governing authorities,” we should actively want to know what ways to organize ourselves economically are better than others – at local, church, and political levels. We need to genuinely and prayerfully attempt to discern what Scripture says about such things, and then faithfully seek to apply those truth-claims to the running of our lives, families, churches, and yes, even economies and governments. Obviously, the more localized the institution we’re seeking to implement our values into, the easier it will be to do so. I believe this is part of the explanation as to why God so decidedly warns against centralized power in the Bible – from Babel in Genesis to Israel demanding a king in I Samuel to Babylon in Revelation. (More on this in later posts.)
So in establishing a biblical understanding of dominion, and subsequently, the interrelationship between work and wealth, a few definite facts emerge.
Work is required. It is a non-negotiable. It is not a bad or dirty thing. It is toilsome and often difficult, but it existed in the perfection of Eden, and it is expected of us here in the fallen world we live in. It is both an expression of the image of a “working” God in us, and the primary way mankind exercises its dominion over the earth. As I posited last time, we’re not simply talking about churning butter and tilling the fields: the cultivation and development on ideas (i.e. engineering, mathematics, science, philosophy, etc.) is absolutely under the umbrella of the “work mandate.”
But what about wealth? What are we to do about the fruits of our labor? Isn’t it here where the real disagreement between Christians on the Right and Left can be found?
It is true that the debate over what we as individuals and groups of people should do with the fruits of our labor is the most contentious and divisive point in the country today, but I began with thoughts on “work” both because the Bible begins with thoughts on it and because I believe that when first things are first, it is much easier to wade through the succeeding issues that arise. There would be no wealth to divvy up and fight over if people did not first work to earn it. There would be no work had God not made us to work. To support and promote any system or even pattern of behavior that encourages and enables people to avoid working is fundamentally un-biblical. This indisputable fact ought to help free-citizens (who are able to personally and peacefully influence what type of economic and political system they are to live under) eliminate certain ideas, politicians, and programs from the list of legitimate ones a Christian can support.
And yet there is still the “wealth question” to be addressed. Wealth is the result of work. It is not inherently evil. It is a tool that can be used in good or bad, Christ-honoring or sinful, ways. The fruits of our labor are how we survive, how we move from roaming around in the forest picking nuts off the ground and dying at the age of 35 of the common cold to delicious Chipotle burritos and medicines that can keep Magic Johnson alive. The accumulation (and hoarding) of wealth can certainly become idolatry, but so too can loving the goose-bumps you get when singing worship songs at church more than the actual relationship you supposedly have with your Savior. For that matter, with how fickle and short-sighted we humans are, R.L. Stine’s Goosebumps could become an idol (although hopefully not for anyone other than pre-pubescent girls).
Reaping benefits and prudently accumulating resources for future use should not be loathsome, guilt-inducing things. Using the fruits of your labor to contribute to your local church or charities is one of the most important, exciting results of wealth. Even paying your taxes – a biblical command – is only possible when you work, make money, and then contribute a portion of that money to the governing authorities. You might even say that the creation of wealth, and the proper management of it, can be quite the rewarding experience.
To bring these larger concepts down to a very personal and practical level, let me quickly sum up one of the most significant reasons I land in the free enterprise camp after taking into account everything we’ve talked about so far.
The only real, sustainable way to move from poverty to non-poverty – presumably the goal of all those “poverty relief” and welfare entitlement programs, both here at home and abroad – is by the creation of wealth. The only sector of American society that creates wealth is the private sector, an entity that thrives most productively when given a free enterprise framework within which to work. The public sector (i.e. the government) cannot create wealth, but can only (coercively) re-distribute other peoples’ wealth.
You do the math.
Of course there is no perfect system, and we will explore more of the faults and flaws of everything from capitalism to collectivism in future posts, but as I’ve said multiple times by now: there are better ways than others to do things. If we have the choice as to what kind of systems and policies we will live under – and Americans absolutely do – we ought to choose the ones that facilitate and emphasize “work” and that allow for the Church to be the vocal conscience in the culture, warning people away from the idolatry of wealth.
D ominion over this world and its resources is holy mandate, and one we as Christ’s representatives on earth would do well to start taking much more seriously.