Over the past six months I have been blogging this series on Theology and Economics. I have made the case that scripture, inspired by God, places us within a narrative. Scripture gives us God’s unfolding story up to the days of the First Century Church. It also tells us something about the end of the story. The intervening part is our age and is presently being written. God invites us to participate with Him in the unfolding of the rest of the story.
The central theme of the story God is unfolding is the formation of a world that is filled with His eikons. I wrote that in the ancient Near East, kings would erect images (eikons) of themselves throughout their Kingdom to remind the inhabitants that they were under his authority. The idea that God created humanity “in his image” (eikons) and wanted them to “fill the earth” clearly draws on this understanding. Of course, God’s eikons would be unique because they are living animated eikons, not inanimate objects. As eikons, they are representatives who should be expected to act with the same mind and the same values as the higher authority who placed them. They have authority only in so far as they represent the mind of God, the one who placed them.
The narrative tells of a rebellion of by the eikons. They sought to establish there independent authority and coalesce rather than scatter and fill the earth. They became so evil that God destroyed them all, except for one remnant family. He told the remnant to multiply and fill the earth. The very next story in the narrative is the descendants of this remnant coalescing and setting themselves up as their own authority. God intervened, confused their plans, and scattered them across the earth. The eikons were now scattered but they were broken eikons that did not reflect his image.
God sought to restore his image by calling out a special people for himself that he could use as a symbol of his character and thereby draw all peoples back to him. But this group, called the Jews, rebelled too. They wanted autonomous authority and refused to reflect Gods image to the world.
Finally, God came in the form of a man, paid the penalty for the rebellious eikons, gave them an example "with flesh on it" of what an eikon is, and then sent redeemed eikons out to fill the earth with his image and intentions for the world. God made clear that he will persevere until his world is filled with fully restored eikons among whom he dwells.
I have written that in our time we are called to live and work as communities of God’s shalom, and that we are to work and pray for the shalom of the world. We are to be world transformers, informing others in word and deed of a coming age. Understanding, exactly what shalom should look like in our age and knowing how to form it is the great challenge. We are fallen and finite people who are easily disoriented. That means we have to make ourselves available to God for our own continuing transformation as well.
I pointed out the different kinds of justice God has revealed that he expects of us. I have written that God’s strategy for transforming his broken eikons is to subvert their delusional strategies by interjecting communities of people who practice other-centered love. People who have the very heart and mind of God. As eikons, we are called to creation stewardship, Kingdom service and the employment of gifts as the priestly, prophetic and kingly body of Christ in the world.
I have written about what has transpired for the Church since the New Testament age and how ideas like progress, linear time, reason and the value of the individual have culminated in the greatest explosion of prosperity in the history of humanity. I have also written about the foibles and missteps of the church in recent times and reflected on what that has meant for how we got to where we are today.
It is now time to turn the application of all this examination and reflection toward some practical issues that face our day. How would it work to have all that I have written in mind as we look at some pressing issues? I want to reflect on economic ethics as I wrap up this series by focusing on two particular aspects of our economic lives.
Economic activity requires at least two things: Material resources and markets. What is our relationship to the material resources over which God has made us stewards? With regard to the second issue of markets, markets only exist when people have both the desire and the ability to trade. Free markets have brought unprecedented prosperity to large numbers of people and that prosperity is expanding. But what about those who are isolated from the markets, both among the relatively poor in countries like the US and the absolutely poor in other regions of the world? What is our responsibility to them? It is to these topics I will turn next.