Friday, March 16, 2007

True or False?

Here's a true/false question I put on my most recent test in business law:

Based on the New Testament's examples and teachings, Christians in a business dispute should be primarily concerned with the money that they have been given by God to steward.
Now, I actually don't think the question is that hard. The fun part, I think, is that it raises other questions for Christians in business (not that I expect the students to remotely think about them during an exam): If building and maintaining my stack of cash shouldn't be the primary objective when in a dispute with others, is it ever supposed to be our primary objective from a New Testament perspective? Is money supposed to be our main goal in planning our advertising? In product design? In customer service? In family relations? "Wait a minute," you may say. "Of course not in family relations, but the other examples are different. They're business, and the reason to be in business is to make money." Really? So, if we spend the bulk of our time at work week to week and year to year, whose servants are we? Another way to look at it would be to talk about whom we are called to love. If we say that family relations are about the good of each person (love) and money is a mere object in comparison to their importance, how do we biblically keep that kind of priority structure within our biological families alone? If I owe the same duty of love to all, how then can it be a cheapening of family relations to make them primarily about money and not with other relations? On what basis do we make actions in business that clearly affect other people about (our) money instead about their good, biblically speaking?

You may say to me (as some students have implied), "But T, none of the economic activities you mentioned would happen at all if not motivated primarily by money." I'm sure there are a lot of activities that wouldn't happen without money being the primary motivator (I'd be happy to see a lot of those ads go, to be honest), but there would still be a whole lot of services and goods produced at God's leading and inspiration alone. There would even be ads, though it would interesting to think about what form they would take. It's interesting to think about what activities would disappear and which ones would emerge if God was the Master behind all activities, if Love was our master even in business. We give money too much credit and God too little if we think that nothing productive would happen without money being our main objective. Jesus didn't just talk in parables, he fed the multitudes; he restocked the wine at a wedding; he healed the sick. Paul talks about doing something useful (for others) with our own hands, and he practiced the same. God gave the Israelites the wisdom of letting their soil rest before science revealed the reason. Just imagine what would happen--and what wouldn't--if serving Jesus' agenda was our primary objective in all our activities, including whatever we might get paid for doing.

Further, I don't see how a 'business is about money' attitude is compatable with the idea of God calling us or leading us to our work for the good of the world, let alone compatible with a gospel of the inbreaking governing of God. Either God calls and continues to lead or money does, and whoever is leading will shape and color the whole activity. My thinking here is essentially based on Jesus' statement "You can't serve both God and money" [at the same time]. Money, of course, tells us, as God does, that it must be given top priority--it is the bottom line, the plumb line, for deciding whether an endeavor as successful or not. This is how money has made even God's people its ambassadors and instruments rather than God's for the bulk of their lives. It is this single dynamic that I think is at the root of all kinds of issues that plague the Western Church as a whole and make the international Church so shocked at the severity of our dualisms. We just trust money more than God for life in this world. Money, in our estimation, gets things done. Jesus may be lord in heaven, but money is lord on earth. This is what our lawsuits, our ads, our schedules and our spending scream to the whole world, as routinely as the earth and stars speak of God's beauty and power.

The only solution to Money's current leadership position that I can think of is to individually increase our personal appreciation for what God does right now in the physical world, and decrease our faith in Money. Money doesn't actually make the world go 'round--God does. Money doesn't actually keep me and my family on this earth, but God does. Money doesn't actually give me my brain and everything else I have to use in the world, but God does. Money doesn't actually control the billions of intangible things that keep my life (including my business) from falling apart. God does. Money didn't lead me to my wife, to my current business and professorship, and it didn't give me my daughter. God did. To reimagine an old Psalm, "I look up to the high rises and skyscrapers, hosting the earth's powers. Does my help come from there? No. My help comes from the Lord, maker of heaven and earth." Maybe as we think about all that God does in this world, in our own lives, out of mercy alone--really take some time to wonder about it--we will begin to trust his ability to take care of the practical things and then make his leadership, his reigning, our primary concern. Then, maybe, the activities of the world--even the economic ones--will slowly take a very different shape and character.