Biblical Economics 101

Reposting this from three years ago.

I had this epiphany as I walked down the street this morning. What’s one basic premise of economics?

Trade (and trade-offs) of finite things, both tangible and intangible.

For example, suppose I was to travel from A to B. I could take the bus, which is $2.5. Or I could take a taxi for $25. Travel time on the public bus is 35 minutes while the taxi ride is only 15 minutes long. No brainer right? Probably not, if you want to analyze it further… and you have to. The trade off initially is time or money. Should I pay more so I get there in less time? Or should I pay less and take the longer route? There are other hidden factors involved which cannot be measured or full factored into the trade: the sense of urgency.

Suppose now that B is the bank and the bank closes at 4:30pm. If the time now is 1:30pm, then there is no sense of urgency to get to B, assuming that is, I have nothing else that is urgent to do that afternoon (and thus trying to limit some of the variables in this scenario). While time – 35 min or 15 min, and money $2.5 or $25 are more or less fixed, urgency is not. What if the time was 3:45pm? There is still time to take the bus. How can I resolve the time/money trade off? I cannot speak for “most people” but I would probably take the taxi for the peace of mind to get to the bank before it closes.

Then there is the classic “guns or butter” graph for government spending. Should the government pour its limited (yes!) resources for social welfare programs or ICBMs?

But here’s the kicker this morning: the Bible does not teach an economic system. It calls for charity, but not a social welfare system where its religious elite support itself by begging as Buddhist monks do. It calls for equitable distribution of wealth, but it is not communism (lower case c). Abraham and Job, could be listed in the Fortune 500 of its day but their wealth or money-making abilitiies were not praised or criticized. The New Testament was also full of rich people, among them rich women who supported Jesus. It did not call for the abolition of the 1st century slavery institution of slavery or supported the institution. Rather, Paul’s letter to Philemon is rather enlightening on this matter. In contrast, Christians did adovcated the abolition of the 18th and 19th centuries version of slavery.

Why would the Bible seem to lack an economic system? Possibly because God is infinite! If He has no limit, then there probably is no limit to His blessings. Five loaves and two fishes is just a small boy’s lunch in any world, but God uses it to feed 5000+ people heartily and have left overs. On another occasion, 4000+ people were fed from little. The story of the Pool of Bethsaida is another example; the pool is only enough for one person, if he’s lucky to get there first. In walks Jesus. The whole system of trading one limited thing for another is thrown out the window. If there is any limitation, it’s on our part; a cup can hold only so much water. A man can understand only a small part of God’s plan or accept only so much of His blessing.

When an Infinite God breaks through into a finite, physical world, what are two very important results? First, He must incarnate or else He would not be able to relate to the people. The Second Godhead veiled His deity and power; we know Him as Jesus Christ, God became flesh. Second, miracles abound… for those who have the faith to believe miracles. Even then, miracles cannot be denied. Five loaves and two fishes feed 5000 people; on another occasion, the equivalent of a McDonald’s Filet of Fish meal feels 4000 people. The blind receive sight; the lame walk again; the deaf hear – all for free. Healthcare in the western world is expensive. Jesus did it for free. This is why biblical economics has never been based on scarcity but abundance.

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