Saturday, March 26, 2011

He Loves Me Too 

We've been singing "He Loves Me Too" in our morning devotions for a little while. It got me thinking. "Because He loves the little things, I know He loves me too." We know the Bible speaks of the love that God has for all of His creation. Psalm 135 speaks of God's compassion on all He has made. Psalm 32 says that the whole creation is filled with the love of God. When He created all things, He said that the things He created are good, and God loves what is good.

Now these passages are quite a bit less emphatic than the love that God has toward His people. But they are there. But that then ought to make us comfortable with the idea that God loves different things in different senses or degrees. If He loves a bird that He has made, does that mean that He loves me the same as a bird? Jesus says not- "You are of more value than many sparrows." (Matthew 10:31)

On the Hypercalvinist side, there are some that deny any love of God at all for the non-elect. On the Arminian side, there are some that insist that the love of God for all men means that love must be absolutely undifferentiated, so that God could not love some more than others, or show unconditional favor to some but not to others. But I am comfortable thinking that God is at least as complex as I am. He loves all of His creation, including all men, but in His providence and secret will, has decided to show some of us a supreme love, the love of the gospel, of the sacrifice and death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, to rescue me from my fallen state. I cannot point to anything in me that makes me more worthy of this love than others; I pray only that He would make me worthy of it. I am grateful to know that He loves the sparrow, and therefore loves me too. But I am also grateful that He loves me more than the sparrow, who is here one day and gone the next and is sold for two pennies in the market.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Battling Depression 

An excellent article from the Pryomaniacs on the subject of depression, from one who has suffered from it:
First and above all: you must see depression as your enemy, to be killed and buried and replaced. It is not your friend. It has come to feel comfortable and comforting, even friendly. Your real friends may not understand this, but I do. They see you wrapping a sopping-wet blanket around yourself, and think you're nuts. But I do understand, more's the pity. The sodden blanket is comforting because it's familiar. It has assumed your body-temperature. It has sapped you of strength in the process, too, so that the thought of doing anything different simply seems like too much to ask.

...if you're a Christian, you need to understand that Christ's bequest to you is joy (John 15:11), and that God's will for you is that you rejoice (Philippians 3:1; 4:4). You need to see, understand, and embrace — hear me, now — that right now, you have the very best reasons to be the very happiest that you could ever be.

Friday, March 18, 2011

Poverty Kills 

I am deeply sorry for the people of Japan, and what they are suffering right now because of the earthquake and tsunami. I am, however, also grateful for the very important truth that is being illustrated very dramatically by that earthquake, and that is the truth that poverty kills, far more than anything else in the world.

Japan's earthquake was a 9.0 magnitude earthquake centered about 80 miles off the coast of Japan. It triggered a tsunami that was over 30 feet high in places. The earthquake caused huge damage over wide areas of Japan, and the tsunami just compounded it. Dams broke, whole villages were swept away, the death toll is in the thousands and probably ultimately will be in the tens of thousands, and millions of people are presently without food, water and power. It is a disaster of almost unimaginable proportions.

But remember the Haiti quake of last year. That quake was a 7.0 magnitude quake, which because of the logarithmic nature of that scale, means that the Japanese earthquake was a hundred times greater. It was located closer to a population center- only 16 miles from Port-au-Prince. There was a tsunami, but only a very small one that did only minor damage. That earthquake caused somewhere between 100,000 and 200,000 deaths, despite being overall a much smaller event. The two earthquakes are not perfectly comparable due to various differences in geography and the like, but still, the dramatic difference is remarkable. Why does a hundred times bigger earthquake with a massive tsunami cause a tenth of the deaths?

The answer is really rather simple- poverty. All of the people in Haiti died because all of their cheaply built buildings collapsed. The Japanese on the other hand are one of the wealthiest nations on the earth, and had invested extensively in earthquake-resistant construction. Earthquakes are of course quite common in Japan. But they are not unheard of in Haiti either.

Poverty kills, more than anything else in the world. People die all over the world by the millions from this preventable cause. They die of famine, they die of disease because they don't have good drinking water, they die of diseases that are easily treated with inexpensive medicines, they die of malaria spread by mosquitos because they lack the resources to do anything about it. They die of murder and war because they lack the ability to protect themselves.

A country like Haiti has been the target of massive sustained relief and foreign aid efforts for a long time. Yet they remain poor. The same could be said of many places around the world. A country like Japan, on the other hand, was very poor after World War II only 60 years ago. Yet it is now rich. Why? Japan has few natural resources. It has no oil, little coal, few usable minerals on the island. A similar story is told about Taiwan by the great Milton Friedman, a small rocky island to which hundreds of thousands of refugees fled after the Chinese civil war, which has very little by way of natural resources. Yet it is one of the wealthiest countries in the whole region. Why?

There is a great deal of attention right now paid to the nuclear reactors that were damaged in Japan as a result of the earthquake. But a little perspective is in order. The only realistic energy source outside of nuclear power is coal power, and coal mining is among the most dangerous professions on earth. How many people die each year to produce coal power? I don't know the number, but I know it is high. And without electricity, we become poor, and poverty kills. So even if these nuclear reactors melt down and hundreds die as a result, it is still just a fraction of the overall deaths caused by the earthquake, still just a fraction of the deaths that would have been caused by using coal power instead, and an even smaller fraction of the deaths that would be caused by having no electricity at all. People say that you shouldn't build nuclear plants in an earthquake zone. But the total death and destruction of this earthquake would be largely unchanged even if they had all coal power. Yes, nuclear plants might fall over in a 9.0 earthquake. But EVERYTHING falls over in a 9.0 earthquake. If nuclear power plants shouldn't be built in an earthquake zone, then neither should houses, bridges, hospitals, or dams.

When you are rich, you have the ability to weather disasters and protect yourself from the ravages of nature. When you are truly poor, even small problems are calamities. Remember this the next time someone proposes some change that would make us poorer but possibly save some lives. They say, even if one life is saved, wouldn't it be worth it? What price do you put on human life? But if the change makes us poorer, it costs lives. Poverty keeps us from buying medicines, keeps us from building better and sturdier homes, keeps us from providing adequate protection from crime (police forces cost money), keeps us from doing a million things that give us safer, longer, better lives. Poverty forces people to dump their garbage in the river or burn it in the streets, rather than having the means to dispose of it in a safer, cleaner way. People joke about how the tornado always seems to head for the trailer park, but the truth is the trailer park just suffers a lot more from the tornado, while people with better houses with basements are safer.

The ant works hard and lays up for the future in the summertime, while the grasshopper just plays around and has a good time. Then when the hard times come, the ant is safe and well-fed, while the grasshopper dies. The ant, through hard work and frugality, has become rich. The poverty of the grasshopper kills him.

The question of what makes nations rich and what makes them poor is therefore of the utmost importance. What has Japan had that Haiti hasn't had for the last several decades? It's not natural resources. It's not intelligence, or else why is the US so much wealthier than India, when all our doctors and engineers come from India these days? It's not even only hard work. Poor people usually have to work very hard.

It is, I would submit, a commitment on the part of the whole society, to freedom, justice and rule of law. It is an environment where people know they can work hard, take risks and innovate, and not have their wealth simply stolen from them by others. It is a culture where people can trust each other to keep their word and honor their contracts, which is necessary for trade to be possible. It is a society where the poor will be treated with justice, rather than be exploited and oppressed by those more powerful than they; where the poor will have the opportunity to better themselves through their own labor and skills; where people will not be treated as members of a class or caste with only certain economic opportunities open to them, but where the limits on what a man can do are only those limits within himself. In such a society, all individuals have the maximum incentive to use their opportunities and abilities for the good of the whole society.

Very poor societies, such as Haiti, always have a few things in common. They have a very top-heavy authority structure. The economic resources and opportunities are all controlled by just a few people, who dole those benefits out to others in return for political support. There is no commitment to rule of law, so that theft is rarely punished, except when it is done by politically unfavored classes. There is little freedom- permission must be asked of the powerful to do anything. There is no respect for private property; a man's possessions can be seized at any time if it is seen to serve the "greater good".

Put these factors in place, and the country will be poor. In fact, a rich country can be made into a poor one rather quickly, as Zimbabwe has demonstrated in the last twenty years, and as many other places can show us as well. But on the other hand, a poor country can become a rich one with these factors in place, as we have seen in South Korea, Taiwan and many other places.

Remember that, as our country appears to be giving up on these very principles, and our government becomes more centralized, more top-heavy, more intrusive into every area of our lives. Remember that as our political elites tell us that our wealth should be concentrated in their hands to then be distributed equitably to the people. In doing so, they will destroy the factors that made us a rich nation in the first place. More and more people will be sunk into poverty. And poverty kills, more than any other factor in the world.

Consider the fact that it took one of the most powerful earthquakes ever recorded to reduce parts of Japan, temporarily, to the condition that large parts of the rest of the world live in all the time. Japan will rebuild and recover, though it won't be easy. Haiti, a year later, is still in rubble.


Saturday, March 12, 2011

The Reproach of Christ 

Moses valued the "reproach of Christ" better than the treasures of Egypt. Do we?

Seems to me like a lot of Christians these days are OK with being Christians as long as Christianity is cool enough. As long as the pastor is wearing the five thousand dollar designer suit, or jeans that cost more than the wool suit of their old pastor; as long as the worship team is attractive enough; as long as the building is comfortable enough; as long as the message can be presented in a way that's acceptable.

"Yes, I'm a Christian, but I'm not one of THOSE Christians. Not one of those tacky Christians in a polyester suit and a combover. Not one of those embarrassing Christians who believes what the Bible says about creation, or homosexuality, or male headship."

It doesn't matter how we dress it up though. The world hates Christianity, mocks it, ridicules it and will destroy it any way they can. Just like they did Christ. Being a Christian means embracing the shame, the embarrassment, the stumblingblock of the cross, and you will never, never be "socially acceptable" to the world who hates Christ. You will never have the right credentials. You will never be wearing the right shoes. You will never have the right taste in music or go to the proper restaurants.

Moses gave up being a prince in the most powerful empire on earth in order to associate himself with a dirty, beat-down slave people. Most of them were bad, ungrateful idolaters who had rejected the God of their fathers. Those slaves didn't even like Moses very much. They hated him in fact and blamed him for all their problems, telling him that he was wrong to sacrifice everything to save them from Egypt. They rebelled against him and tried to go back to Egypt, saying that everything Moses had done was just for his own ego.

But they were God's people. They were the people of the promise. They were decidedly "unhip", and yet Moses made their fate his fate, because they were God's people.

This is what it means to embrace the shame of the cross, the reproach of Christ, the scandal of the gospel. Jesus said, "Woe to you when all men speak well of you." It means giving up riches, reputation, relationships. It means, worst of all for many in this generation, being uncool.

But Christ was "uncool" for us. Jesus was stripped naked, nailed to a piece of wood and hoisted up where everyone could see him, spit on him, mock him and shame him. He did all of this without a word in His defense. He was a defeated, crushed, powerless and humiliated enemy of every single power structure that existed at the time. He was despised and rejected. He was irrelevant, marginalized, out of touch, unfashionable. And He was, finally and literally, beaten to death. For us.

So now He makes this very simple request of us. For Him, in thankfulness for what He did, we must embrace His shame, His defeat, His rejection and make it our own. The only way to the glory of heaven is through the shame of the cross. The Apostles knew it; they rejoiced to be found worthy to suffer shame for Jesus' sake. Moses knew it; he embraced the promise of God knowing it meant rejecting the glory, sophistication and power of Egypt in exchange for the contempt and ingratitude of an ignorant, rebellious slave people, for the sake of God's promise. And we must know it today. We must not be ashamed of the gospel. It was unfashionable in Paul's day and it is unfashionable in ours. If being relevant and acceptable to our society is what we value then we will reject the true gospel, the true doctrine of Christ. But if we embrace Christ, and rejoice to suffer shame for His sake, then His glory becomes ours as well, and we will one day rule with Him in eternity.

Thursday, March 03, 2011

Christian Economics: Trade and Money 

Christian Economics, part 3: Trade and Money

Part 1
Part 2

Proverbs 11:26 The people will curse him who withholds grain, But blessing will be on the head of him who sells it.

Trade is a fundamental part of our economic life. Without trade, life would be very difficult. Think for a moment of what things would be like if you were required to produce everything you used for yourself. Even with a great deal of training and effort, any of us would at best be able to manage a very rudimentary survival, and only if we are physically strong and healthy.

Even the simplest, most isolated tribe will trade. The men will hunt while the women stay home and tend the gardens or farms, cook and care for the children. There is trade between the men and the women- the men provide many raw materials such as meat and animal skins while the women trade services such as refining those raw materials into usable goods for the men. The men specialize at what they can do most effectively and the women generalize in several other areas. The result is that both the men and the women, through trade, are wealthier than they would otherwise be.

Soon, one tribe sees that another tribe has very good spears, while they are good at making clothes out of skins. So the spear tribe realizes that they can make extra spears and trade them to the other tribe for skins. Both tribes are better off through the trade. The spear tribe makes more spears than they actually need, and value the extra spears less than they value the high quality clothes from the other tribe, which they would not be able to produce themselves. Before, one tribe would have good spears and bad clothes, and the other tribe would have bad spears and good clothes. Through trade, both tribes have good spears and good clothes. Everyone is better off through trade. Soon, more tribes learn of the good spears, and they too wish to trade for them, trading perhaps their own raw materials, perhaps canoes or bows or pottery. This goes on to the point where the spear tribe realizes that it is now more profitable for them to make spears than it is to do anything else. So they stop hunting, stop farming, spend some time making good tools which they never would have made just to make spears for themselves, and spend most of their effort now cranking out high quality spears for all the rest of the tribes, who trade all the other goods the tribe needs in exchange. The tribe now grows far richer than they ever would have been otherwise, and everyone around has great hunting spears.

Now money comes into the picture. It is very convenient to have some store of wealth. Maybe the spear tribe has enough meat for now, but they'd love to be able to get some meat later after the hunting season is over and few people are buying spears. So they accept payment in rare glass beads instead, intending to use those beads later to trade back for food. The beads act as money, a store of wealth.

For something to be effective as money, it needs to be recognizably valuable and non-perishable. It should be convenient to move around. Its weight and size needs to be much smaller than the goods that it purchases, relative to its value. Things such as glass beads were good money for some people at certain times, but as glass beads became much easier to manufacture, they lost their value. Precious metals were much better. Gold, silver and copper are great stores of value. They are attractive. They are very useful for making jewelry, and in the modern age even have many industrial applications, and therefore have intrinsic value. There is a limited supply of each of them- they cannot be manufactured from other things, but must be mined out of the ground. These metals have very distinctive properties of weight, color and malleability, which makes them very difficult to counterfeit. This is why these metals have so commonly been used for money. Money therefore acts as a store of wealth beyond its own ability to raise one's standard of living.

So this raises the question of price. What is the right price for something? When we understand what trade is, we can immediately understand the answer to this question. The right price for something is the price that people are willing to pay. The spear tribe doesn't truly determine the price of its spears. The people who want the spears decide what they are willing to pay. Different people will value them differently. A tribe with no access to metal at all will value those good spears more highly than another tribe that can already make pretty decent spears on their own. Price therefore is determined at its most basic level by the value people place on the goods they are purchasing.

Simply put, this is all trade is. Most of us trade our labor for other goods. We get specialized at particular kinds of labor in order to maximize the worth of that labor. We then trade that labor for money, and use the money to buy the other goods and services that we need. Some people own property, and trade the use of that property for money through rents. Some people purchase labor, and use that labor combined with their own personal skills, abilities and equipment, manufacture the goods or provide the services that other people desire.

Through this system, everyone's wealth is increased. Each time a transaction in a free economy occurs, both sides of the transaction choose to make the transaction because they believe they will be better off. Just as the trade of spears and clothes increases the wealth of both tribes, so my purchase of aspirin at the store makes both of us wealthier. So when I give away money and get aspirin in return, both of us are better off. The people who sell the aspirin are selling it for more than it is worth to them at the time, and the person who buys the aspirin wants the aspirin more than they value any other purpose for which they could use the money. Therefore both are wealthier for the purchase.

Take a look back at the Bible verse quoted at the beginning of the post. We now see why this is so true. When people freely engage in the marketplace of goods and services, they are better off, and so are the people with which they trade. The more buyers and sellers there are, the better off everyone ultimately becomes. A man might withhold his corn in an attempt to drive the price up, because he is too lazy to produce or harvest, or because of false ideas about what wealth truly is. He might save all of his grain in order to protect himself from some imagined disaster. He would be better off by selling that grain, because doing so increases his wealth and the wealth of everyone around him.

For free trade to occur, there are some important conditions that must exist. There must be rule of law. A man needs to have confidence that contracts will be honored and that goods are what people say they are. This is why false weights and measures are an abomination to God. False weights and measures, along with all other forms of theft, destroy economic relationships which, as we established, lie right at the heart of what it means for us to be in the image of God. This is one of the main roles of government- to prevent theft by enforcing contracts, regulating weights and measures and punishing those that steal from others.

There are of course many complications, caveats and qualifications to the simple model I have outlined above. But much of our wrong thinking about economics comes from failing to understand the basic nature of a thing. We hear that the government should restrict what people can sell or buy, or the price at which they can do so. We see gas prices going up and say, why can't the government do something about it? If we realize that the gas prices are the result of free economic decisions of value between buyers and sellers, then we would know that there is no "right" price of gas, and if we want to bring the price down, we should look at what factors are preventing trade or limiting supply, all the time realizing that there are free economic actors on both sides of the trade, and it is just as legitimate for the sellers of gas to want to make a profit as it is for the buyers of gas to get cheap gas.

George Orwell once said, "To see what is in front of one's nose requires a constant struggle." We have had a great many highly trained academics from Harvard and Yale, men and women who have written long books, held many high academic, commercial and government positions, who made a great deal of money and have many letters after their name, who told us the present economic crisis could never happen. And yet it happened. They based their thinking on the premise that ingenious state and corporate activity could repeal the basic laws of human interaction and create wealth out of nothing. But currency manipulations, bureaucratic regulations, political schemes and laws can never create wealth. They can certainly destroy it. But the best the state can ever do is to create the environment where wealth creation happens. The way wealth creation happens has always been the same. Economic actors produce goods and services, and then freely exchange those goods and services for other goods and services that they desire. We need to continually struggle to remind ourselves and others of this very simple truth.

Never feel guilty about making a fair profit, of growing wealthy by providing valuable services and goods to others. God created you to do that very thing. Blessed is the man who sells, and cursed is the man who holds back his God-given gifts from the marketplace of free exchange.


This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?

Google Analytics Alternative