Recently at the Acton Institute’s Commentary page, Jordan Ballor was musing on C. S. Lewis, theology, and economics:
At the conclusion of the first of his two chapters exploring the theological virtue of faith in Mere Christianity, C.S. Lewis provides a brief illustration….Lewis wants to show that a key element of faith is the understanding of the divine origins of all things. “Every faculty you have, your power of thinking or of moving your limbs from moment to moment, is given you by God,” he writes. A consequence of this reality is that, as Lewis puts it, “If you devoted every moment of your whole life exclusively to His service you could not give Him anything that was not in a sense His own already.”
How does Lewis bring this point home? By talking about pocket change:
So that when we talk of a man doing anything for God or giving anything to God, I will tell you what it is really like. It is like a small child going to its father and saying, “Daddy, give me sixpence to buy you a birthday present.” Of course the father does, and he is pleased with the child’s present. It is all very nice and proper, but only an idiot would think that the father is sixpence to the good on the transaction. (Lewis, Mere Christianity)
What’s remarkable about this image? Jordan says,
It is notable, perhaps, that in attempting to communicate a basic theological truth such as the divine origin and ownership over all of creation Lewis should choose an illustration that primarily relies on economic realities. But of course Lewis has a most excellent precedent for this in the parables of Jesus, many of which draw to a lesser or greater extent on economic imagery familiar to an audience in first-century Judea, particularly the parable of the talents which can be seen as analogous to some extent with Lewis’ sixpence image.
Have you ever thought about how many of Jesus’ parables use illustrations having to do with money before? (Nope, I hadn’t either.) The examples just get used because they are, well, part of life:
Significant, too, is that in Jesus’ parables as in Lewis’ more modern one, the economic elements are prominent but are not, after all, the ultimate point of the illustrations. Here Lewis is no more attempting to provide a lesson in basic economics than Jesus is attempting to instruct his hearers on the finer points of labor markets with the parable of the workers in the vineyard (Matt. 20:1–16)
What does this teach us? To find God everywhere, even in surprising places:
And yet the facility with which mundane economic matters are woven into such stories, stories that have rather higher spiritual aims, itself teaches us something about the relationship between the things of God and the things of this world. There is no radical dichotomy or separation such that economic realities like production, investment, debt, or commerce are somehow too profane to serve as vehicles of revealed truth. It is, in fact, a traditional contention among Christian theologians that there is nothing so base or mean in the creation that it is incapable in one way or another of proclaiming the glory of its Creator…..For those with ears to hear, even a dishonest manager who brazenly diverts company funds for private purposes has something to teach us about the kingdom of God!
You can read the rest of Jordan’s post here, and see some links to other resources as well.