Today we turn a corner in our discussion of theologians and economists. Most economists (academic ones anyway) live and work in the realm of positive economics … they study the world as it is and they attempt to model how economic realities work. Theology is largely a study of normative behavior … we want to discern how we ought to behave. When we engage this task with regard to economics we have entered into normative economics. Positive economics can’t answer “ought” questions but it can often give useful information about what happens if we choose to behave in a certain ways. So if we want to begin a discussion of normative economics from a theological perspective, where might we begin? How about at the beginning?
Something peculiar happened a few millennia ago in the Ancient Near East. Cosmologies of these ancient cultures were quite similar. The gods emerge from some primordial stuff, form the world, and then create human beings as servants subject to the god’s capricious whims. But then the Hebrews came along.
The Hebrew cosmology taught that there was only one god who was without origin and by whom everything else was created and given its function. It taught that human beings, far from being slaves to capricious gods, had been crowned with glory and honor … made ruler over the works of God’s hands and everything was put under their feet. (Psalm 8) God gave humanity dominion over the earth and instructed them to fill it… to bring the earth to its full potential. (Gen 1) We are told that human beings were to “care for the garden.” (Gen 2) When we take in the full sweep of the biblical narrative, we see that the story begins in a garden and ends in a city
Several things can be gleaned from this astonishing new story:
- God is owner and sustainer of all that exists. When it comes to material things we have two roles we may adopt: steward or foregoer. Human beings are accountable to the owner for the use of his creation.
- God does not provide all that we need in the form that we need it. We participate in our own provision. We transform matter, energy, and data from less useful forms to more useful forms.
- As “gardeners,” we are neither parasites destroying the earth nor forest rangers protecting the earth from all disturbance. As Darrell Cosden says, the earth is both our habitat and the subject of our work.
- As we move later into the Christian narrative it becomes clear that redemption is not about rescuing individuals from eternal suffering. Redemption is the conversion of the world into the shalom-filled vision God originally initiated and the recovery of humanity’s role within that world. Personal salvation is about being saved into the movement that prays and works for “Thy Kingdom come, Thy will be done,” as we actively wait for consummation of the new creation.