Earlier in this series I said that human beings build worlds to inhabit and infuse them with meaning. As God's image bearers, that is simply what we do. But our world-building enterprise has become corrupted. Because of sin, there is always a mixture of goodness and idolatry in all we create. God’s mission is about the redemption of humanity and the created order … the establishment of the new creation. That redemption includes redemption of economic activity.
As we begin to theologically reflect on economics we need to be cautious about the narratives we bring to Scripture. Three I have noted are:
- Substituting Modernist visions for the Kingdom of God: Achievement of personal autonomy or endless improvement of humanity through application of “objective” reason by benevolent experts.
- Viewing the economy as a family/household writ large, including the idea that there is a global or societal "household manager."
- Uncritically applying the ethics of the Bible’s zero-sum economic context to our context.
If there is one word that best sums of the idea of the coming Kingdom of God it is probably shalom. We typically equate shalom with the English word "peace." Unfortunately, we often identify peace simply as the absence of war or anxiety. Shalom means so much more.Here are just few ways shalom is used in the Old Testament. (The words representing shalom are in bold.)
Absence of War
Joshua 9:15 (NRSV)
And Joshua made peace with them, guaranteeing their lives by a treaty; and the leaders of the congregation swore an oath to them.
1 Samuel 16:4-5 (NRSV)
4 Samuel did what the LORD commanded, and came to Bethlehem. The elders of the city came to meet him trembling, and said, "Do you come peaceably?" 5 He said, "Peaceably; I have come to sacrifice to the LORD; sanctify yourselves and come with me to the sacrifice."
Personal welfare of people and animals
Genesis 37:14 (NRSV)
So he said to him, "Go now, see if it is well with your brothers and with the flock; and bring word back to me."
Jeremiah 33:9 (NRSV)
And this city shall be to me a name of joy, a praise and a glory before all the nations of the earth who shall hear of all the good that I do for them; they shall fear and tremble because of all the good and all the prosperity I provide for it.
Zechariah 8:16-17 (NRSV)
16 These are the things that you shall do: Speak the truth to one another, render in your gates judgments that are true and make for peace, 17 do not devise evil in your hearts against one another, and love no false oath; for all these are things that I hate, says the LORD.
Peace of mind
Psalms 119:165 (NRSV)
Great peace have those who love your law; nothing can make them stumble.
These are just a few samples of the many shades of meaning in shalom. There are other more nuanced instances as well. All seem to point toward a combination of wholeness, wellness and harmony.
There are three more passages I want to highlight. These passages show the centrality of shalom to God's vision for humanity. The first passage is the Priestly Prayer and the other two are messianic prophecies.
Numbers 6:24-26 (NRSV)
24 The LORD bless you and keep you;
25 the LORD make his face to shine upon you, and be gracious to you;
26 the LORD lift up his countenance upon you, and give you peace.
Isaiah 9:6-7 (NRSV)
6 For a child has been born for us,
a son given to us;
authority rests upon his shoulders;
and he is named
Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
7 His authority shall grow continually,
and there shall be endless peace
for the throne of David and his kingdom.
He will establish and uphold it
with justice and with righteousness
from this time onward and forevermore.
The zeal of the LORD of hosts will do this.
Ezekiel 37:24-28 (NRSV)
24 My servant David shall be king over them; and they shall all have one shepherd. They shall follow my ordinances and be careful to observe my statutes. 25 They shall live in the land that I gave to my servant Jacob, in which your ancestors lived; they and their children and their children's children shall live there forever; and my servant David shall be their prince forever. 26 I will make a covenant of peace with them; it shall be an everlasting covenant with them; and I will bless them and multiply them, and will set my sanctuary among them forevermore. 27 My dwelling place shall be with them; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people. 28 Then the nations shall know that I the LORD sanctify Israel, when my sanctuary is among them forevermore.
Throughout the New Testament, Jesus and others repeatedly say things like "Grace and peace to you."
Shalom, in all its fullness, is probably the best word to sum up what God intends for his creation. At the core of shalom is everyone and everything being in healthy relationship with God and with each other. While shalom is not an economic concept, economic issues are integral to the concept. God’s primary mission for us is to care for creation and enhance it in ways that reflect what God values. We build our home in this world as we fill the earth. The development and distribution of resources and goods is integral to God's mission for humanity. There can be no shalom without economics that honor God.
I want to suggest that shalom is the general standard we use for theologically evaluating an economic system. Yet we are always cognizant that, this side of the consummation of the new creation, no economic system will achieve shalom . Therefore, in critiquing it is insufficient to show that an economic system doesn't measure up to shalom. All economics systems will fail this measure. The question is performance relative to other possibilities this side of the fulfillment of the new creation.