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Reflections: Saving and investing

Markets from God
By Leonard Van Drunen

A few years ago while visiting Africa, I had the privilege to observe leopards up close in the wild. These big cats live a mostly solitary existence, with a routine of hunt, kill, eat, sleep and repeat. Leopards are not social animals and do not live in packs. They are pretty much self-sufficient.

God’s creation-design for humans is quite different from his design for leopards. God created humans as social creatures. He gave us the gift of language so we can have detailed communication with each other. He endowed us with great creativity and with differing talents and interests, which support a rich societal fabric. He gave us a strong desire to associate with other humans. Finally, God gave us an ability and command to love one another. In short, our Triune God created us in his image.

This has a profound impact on how we interact as humans. In contrast to leopards, our diverse talents allow us to specialize, and our communication skills allow us then to exchange goods and services. For example: I will teach your children if you build my shelter and provide food for me to eat. Markets provide a mechanism for mutually beneficial exchanges. Markets, which are built on the way God created us, allow us to carry out our God-ordained roles in society. In this sense, we should consider markets as part of God’s creation.

When I go to the hardware store or grocery store, I look at my fellow image bearers and marvel that God arranged for a person to stock the shelves, another person to source what I need and yet other people to make or grow what I need. I marvel at God’s genius that we can agree on a fair price and a medium of exchange. This glorifies God and provides a great way to love our fellow human beings.

When markets are working well, I can easily find someone to cut my hair and another person to fix my refrigerator. I can teach other people’s college-aged kids, and another person can teach my high school-aged kids. Via markets, the fruits of my specialized labor can be reallocated to fully meet my needs and to meet others’ needs. I consider this a gift from God. That this works is a miracle.

I have saved some money for retirement or a rainy day. I should let somebody else use that money for a while until I need it. A young family needs a shelter now but has only limited savings. They can use some of my savings and pay me back later when I retire. The financial markets help me find people that can make good use of my savings for a few years. The financial markets help those potential borrowers find me and help us agree on a price for making this exchange. Both parties can benefit from this.

When I see markets working well like this, I rejoice and give praise to God. Of course, markets are not God’s only method of creating human flourishing. He provides many ways—markets being one of these ways—that the special part of his creation which is created in his (social) image can live in mutually beneficial harmony. But I am saddened when I see markets polluted by the sins of greed, lying and cheating. Just like pollution in the natural environment, polluted markets show disrespect for God and his creation. We must work to clean them up, making certain that we are not polluting markets with our own greed, lying and cheating.

Recall that old song “This is my Father’s World,” which celebrates how we see God in the natural creation? I suggest this alternative version for the part of God’s creation that is the financial markets:

1.         This is my Father’s world,
            and to my listening ears
            all markets sing, and round me rings
            the music of the spheres.
            This is my Father’s world:
            I rest me in the thought
            of buyers and seller, of prices and rates;
            his hand these wonders wrought.

2.         This is my Father’s world,
            the markets a carol raise,
            the need that’s met, the risk managed,
            declare the Maker’s praise.
            This is my Father’s world:
            he shines in all that’s fair;
            in rustling markets I hear him pass;
            he speaks to me everywhere.

3.         This is my Father’s world.
            O let me ne’er forget
            that though the wrong seems oft so strong,
            God is the ruler yet.
            This is my Father’s world:
            why should my heart be sad?
            The Lord is King; his creation rings!
            God reigns; let all people be glad!

(Note the third verse is not changed from the original and fits markets very well!)

Questions for reflection:

  • What markets am I most active in? How does my participation in these markets honor God and help me love my fellow humans?
  • How are God’s markets polluted by greed, lies and cheating? What are some specific examples? How can I stop polluting markets and help others to stop pollution?

—Leonard Van Drunen, Professor of Business and Chair of the Business Department, Calvin College

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