(The following is a reflection that I wrote for 22nd July 2012 church bulletin.)
Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. Put on the full armour of God, so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes. For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. (Ephesians 6:10-12)
A couple of weeks ago I met an old friend at a wedding. Like all meetings with old friends, we catch up with each other by asking about what are we doing. He told me that he is currently working as an analyst at a major investment bank (which I shall not name). I told him that I’m now working in the pastorate. Hearing that, my friend said that his job doesn’t have the sort of meaning-fullness compared to mine. I asked him why so?
He replied that his daily job is all about analysing and designing investment products that generate profit for his company’s clients. He doesn’t see any godly value in his job except the interest in making money, which has to do with capitalizing and promoting greediness in his industry. His job is not like the pastorate that helps people connect with the values in life and live faithfully for God.
I looked at my friend and nodded in acknowledgement of his sense of meaninglessness in his work. The marketplace is about making profit. This is the reality that we who live in the urban city experience. Those in the pastorate also experience this reality in one way or another. We live in the same economic system. Our daily spending and earning are inevitably done through the same system. However, it is understandable that this experience is much amplified for those, like my friend, who are in the business of creating wealth for others. Nonetheless I think there is something more to this experience.
In 2009 there were 12 academicians gathered at the Royal Society of Edinburgh Conference Centre for a symposium discussing the works of Adam Smith, the guy who is known to have provided the framework for our modern economy system. Part of the discussion at the symposium was about the moral and theological values that underlie Smith’s works. One political scientist remarked at the symposium,
“…Smith views the market as a divine regulation of human sinfulness and an instrument to serve God’s providential plan. Indeed, the ‘invisible hand of the market’ represents a nominalist realm where human cooperation intersects with divine providence, blending self-interest with the public commonweal.”[i]
Smith himself commented that, “By pursuing [our] own interest [we] frequently promotes that of the society more effectually than when [we] really intends to promote it.” (The Wealth of Nations, Book IV, Chapter II)
The market is envisioned by Smith as God’s instrument to promote the society’s good. However, wealth creation may not always be good when it is pursued for its own end. Pursuing wealth for its own sake is a manifestation of greed, if not a sense of false security. Money has the characteristic of God in promising us a secured future. Money in tangible ways builds nations out of its promises. As my market analyst friend said, “The economy of every country is built on credit.” Or, as how a philosopher puts it, “Money produces nothing---not even desire. It gives credit. It appeals to the future. To put it another way, it prays.”[ii] In theological language, money has eschatology dimension. The power of money is undeniable. Whether is it a power “of this dark world” remains a question each of us need to face and struggle with. Have we set money to be the god who secures our future?
There are evil forces roaming the world that corrode whatever means to godliness. The market may be envisioned to deliver “public commonweal”, yet it is also subjected to the enticement of these forces. Besides, as John Calvin has cautioned us that, “Our human nature is like a factory that never stops producing idols.” (Institutes of the Christian Religion, Book One: 11.8) If we are not strengthened in the Lord and His mighty power, if we do not put on the full armour of God, we are hopeless in our struggle against idolatry, in this case the dark forces in the ambivalent world of economics that we live in. So, whose side are we at?
“No one can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money.” (Matthew 6:24)
This is as much a reminder to my friend as well as to me. In this ambivalent world, we should not lose sight of whose side we are at. Perhaps the godly value and meaningfulness in my friend’s job is in his resistance to subject himself to dark forces in the market. And by doing that, he is connecting with godly values and living faithfully for God, while being a light for others, not least me, to do the same.