Watching my retirement savings dwindle and the grocery and gas bills soar is a little unsettling. All indications point to an economy with higher interest rates and prices, a bear market for investments, and a cool-off of the real estate market, and that is but the beginning. The result is fear.
In our society no single thing wields as much power over our lives as the economy. Harvey Cox, professor of religion at Harvard, in his book The Market as God, shows how we imbue the market with reverence and language usually reserved for religious deities. We “appease the market” with bailouts and stimulus plans. The market has human feelings – it is “skittish” or “confident.” We even use animals, like idols of old, to imagine the market as bull or bear. This all points to the powerlessness we feel before market forces. It points to the fear and terror that a diminishing economy can create as we experience financial losses and threats.
It is perfectly natural to feel the anxiety that comes from the falling savings balances and rising prices, especially for those who live right on the edge of survival each day. My plans for retirement and budget are being rewritten daily as the numbers change. It is disheartening. It is entirely possible, because of the principal place that the economy plays in our lives, to see nothing else but troubled times and darkness.
We cannot let ourselves worship such an idol. The markets have great power, but the market is NOT God. The psalmist sings of God in the face of earth-shattering realities with hope and praise:
God is our refuge and strength,
a very present help in trouble.
Therefore we will not fear, though the earth should change,
though the mountains shake in the heart of the sea;
though its waters roar and foam,
though the mountains tremble with its tumult. (Psalm 46:1-3)
In the face of economic woes, we should first remember that God is God and that no matter what comes, this will not change. We are beloved in good times and downturns, when the market is up and when it is down. Set your life upon the rock that is our foundation – God. Do not build your life upon the shifting sands of the economy.
Second, we should certainly do what we must to steward our resources the best we can. We should remember that our worth is not established by our net worth. Many of us have enjoyed fruitful times for a long stretch of time. As things go the other way, we cannot look at things in the short term.
Third, we must be a community ensuring that those hit hardest still have enough. Our food pantry and mission to help the homeless, refugees, and others are more important than ever. We can all get through what comes together, with God in our midst and on the other side of the cycle.
My friends, God is our refuge and strength. God has delivered people from slavery, exile, and Christ from death. God can walk us through an economic downturn.
Tim Olson – Lead Pastor