Part 1: Understanding Creation & the Fall
Whatever situation we find ourselves in economically, questions and concerns about God’s intent and role in provision and wealth weigh heavily on almost every Christian’s mind. Such matters are to the fore in the lives of rich and poor; employer, employee and job seeker; student, parent and retiree; homeowner, tenant and homeless person.
Fortunately, this concern for the economic is matched by the priority it is given in Scripture. Indeed, provision and wealth are far from peripheral issues in the Bible. They occupy a large share of both the Old and New Testaments, and are prominent in the Gospels.
So what does God’s word have to say to us? In this series we will explore:
- God’s original intentions for us regarding provision and wealth
- The impact living in a fallen world has had on our capacity to experience provision and wealth
- God’s response in redeeming the economic sphere, and our role in this
- What we can reasonably expect from God in regard to our provision
- How we should treat any wealth we possess
To get a grip on wealth, we must first understand God’s intentions when the world was created. God intends for everyone to thrive economically. He wants us to find provision (basic needs) for our daily life. He also desires for us to enjoy the wealth (abundance) of his generosity. Furthermore, God’s world has ample resources to provide all we need. However, in the fallen world we inhabit, many people do not experience God’s abundant provision.
God’s Original Intentions: Blessing, Provision, Abundance
The account of Genesis 1 and 2 makes it clear that God planned for humanity to enjoy the beauty, abundance and fruitfulness of creation. In the idyllic setting of the Garden of Eden, the first humans found a rich, fertile place, and humanity was intended to prosper in every sense. God provides an abundance of resources and means for humans to flourish.
As the writer of Genesis states early on in the story about the creation of humans, “God blessed them” (Genesis 1:28). The word “blessing” or “blessed” is a central feature of the biblical story. Part of the blessing of relationship with God is very definitely tangible, in-the-hand stuff. And these material blessings are thoroughly integrated with the other benefits of knowing and loving the Creator.
Later, even in the barrenness of the wilderness, the people of Israel find daily provision from God, in the form of manna (Exodus 16) and water gushing from the rock (Exodus 17). The abundant wealth of God’s creation is discovered further on in the biblical narrative by the people of Israel, when they finally reach the Promised Land. It is a land “flowing with milk and honey,” rich with all the ingredients needed to live according to God’s design. Deuteronomy records the promise made to God’s people in the desert that they would find on earth everything they need to prosper.
For the Lord your God is bringing you into a good land, a land with flowing streams, with springs and underground waters welling up in valleys and hills, a land of wheat and barley, of vines and fig trees and pomegranates, a land of olive trees and honey, a land where you may eat bread without scarcity, where you will lack nothing. (Deuteronomy 8:7-9)From the beginning, God perfectly provisioned the world for humans to thrive. The good earth yields food when humans exercise their God-given ability to “till it and keep it” (Genesis 2:15). God’s intent is that people would not merely subsist, but have good things in abundance. “Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth and subdue it” (Genesis 1:28). God gives people the capacity to understand the natural world so that we make use of its resources (Genesis 2:20). Human work and ingenuity are more than capable of developing God’s creation to provide abundantly for all people. In partnership with the Creator, we are to make creative use of the resources of the earth, growing and innovating, creating new products, improving on the original. There is more than enough raw material to go around. This is in stark contrast to the principle of scarcity that applies to most goods and materials in post-Eden economics.
At our best, we humans have cooperated with God amazingly well in developing his creation. Whether it be the development of agriculture and horticulture, the harnessing of coal, oil, gas, wind and water for power generation, the creation of parks, gardens and images of beauty, or the design and building of houses, appliances, clothes and modes of transport, all such developments that enrich our lives are expressions of co-creation. The capacity to innovate, produce and develop is part of what it means to be made in God’s image.
The Effects of a Fallen World
The rebellion of the first humans (Genesis 3) had a catastrophic effect on all of creation—not just their relationship with God, but also their capacity to draw provision and create wealth from the land. The Fall demonstrates that when we break our relationship with God, we create economic problems, along with all sorts of other evil. Because God is the source of blessing, no longer being close to him undermines humanity’s ability to find provision and wealth.
As a result of the Fall, people began to live under both a curse and a blessing. This had significant implications for work. The land—and therefore its productivity and fruitfulness—is deeply impaired by the breaking of relationship, prompting God to say to Adam:
Cursed is the ground because of you; in toil you shall eat of it all the days of your life; thorns and thistles it shall bring forth for you; and you shall eat the plants of the field. By the sweat of your face you shall eat bread until you return to the ground… (Genesis 3:17b-19a)
We may even become unable to draw basic provision from the materials of creation, whether by our own fault, or by the fault of others, or by no one’s fault in particular. Drug abuse, poor work habits, lack of access to education, ill health, concentration of resources in the hands of elites, ethnic discrimination and a myriad of other causes may prevent individuals, families, communities, and entire societies from co-creation with God of the provision they need. In the fallen world we inhabit, God’s original intentions for provision and wealth are disrupted.