Have you ever pondered God’s economy? I don’t mean what is God’s opinion on our economic structures, or a typically American apologia for capitalism as the sine qua non of the Kingdom.
Let’s put such thoughts aside for now—though if you want a typically provocative thought on the subject: I’m queasy about capitalism for Biblical reasons. All the alternatives look worse.
Rather I’d like to speak of the economy of faith, how faith is spent as a currency and how that works. Which you might immediately want to query as being a nonsense, faith isn’t a currency! No, but there is an inheritance (Ephesians 1) that comes by faith, for all it isn’t financial. Faith is more like the wind than what goes in your wallet, it fills your sails, or it doesn’t, but go with the analogy—I trust it will be instructive.
Faith has an economy, and it runs counter to most of our intuitions. It’s more communal than you might imagine. For example, I can ‘spend’ your faith. Have you noticed that?
Let me show you what I mean. Let’s say you’ve been through a particularly trying time, and it is a genuine struggle to summon up the will to do some hoping, or the faith to pray for a breakthrough. Some, perhaps, would admonish you for that, as though your faith is deficient or lacking. I think we can safely discount them as people who have not suffered. The true friend bolsters my faith and reminds me of what’s true.
When things are tough for me and I’m struggling to believe what God says about himself in the Bible, I can use your faith that those things are true and be bolstered by it. In fact, doing so causes both your faith and mine to increase. I spend yours, we both get more.
There are conditions to this though, I only get to spend yours when you offer it. It doesn’t live in a bank (Matthew 6) and I can’t take yours unless you first give it. You only offer your faith when I reveal how sparse my account seems to be. In other words, our faith accumulates when I am vulnerable enough to reveal my poverty of spirit to you. When I’m struggling and I take you aside, dear friend, and tell you my woes and where my trust in God is lacking and my faith is low, I open a line of credit to your account. When you in turn, despite your own struggles and doubts, offer what little you have to me by reminding me that I am loved by Jesus and affirming his promises to his people, I gain faith from your little faith. It grows. Your faith does too as you see me bolstered, if only a little, in my present storms.
A tiny seed grows slowly to be a mighty tree (Matthew 13)—however much we eat its fruit.
Better than that though, we both have access to a line of credit that doesn’t need paying back. After all, our justification rests on our faith (Romans 3, Ephesians 2), we need faith to stand before God and encounter the grace he gifts us. That faith comes as a gift from God, which basically means we get to use Jesus’ perfect faith and hope, all of the time. All faith is second-hand faith, it first comes from the hand of God to us.
Faith has an economy, and it runs counter to most of our intuitions. It’s a backwards economy, in that what we have grows by spending. It’s a communal economy, in that we can spend what each other have as we share.
Yet, to access it, we must reveal our poverty, we must make friendships that are deep enough to hear that your friend has nothing to give, realise you can’t give them anything, and then give them what you don’t have anyway.
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