Friday, December 28, 2007

The Politics of Wealth: Dt 8:18

"But you shall remember the Lord your God, for it is He who is giving you power to make wealth, that He may confirm His covenant which He swore to your fathers, as it is this day." (Deuteronomy 8:18)
In my country, we live in a politically charged environment where the differences between the various socioeconomic groups of our population are exploited for political ends. It is not uncommon to hear talk about the "two Americas, the haves and the have nots." There is also much debate over the tax brackets with some politicians complaining about "tax breaks for the rich" and wanting to increase the taxes on the wealthy in this country. I suppose it is to be expected that issues involving money would be easy fodder for politicizations, but what does the Bible have to say about wealth? And how should civil government apply biblical truths about wealth and apply them to policy decisions? This scripture teaches us several things about wealth.
  1. Wealth is the provision of God. In a now famous speech, Congressmen Richard Gephardt referred to those who were wealthy and high achievers as "winners in life's lottery", yet this scripture clearly teaches that wealth does not happen by chance. There is no "life's lottery" where some just happen to win and gain wealth while others continually "purchase" tickets and never win anything. It is God who gives people the ability to make wealth, not chance or fate.
  2. Wealth is not evil. While not everyone who becomes wealthy does so by ethical means, and not every wealthy person uses their wealth for noble causes, this does not mean that wealth is evil. Wealth is the provision of God and therefore not intrinsically evil. It is not wrong to be wealthy just as it is not wrong to be poor.
  3. Wealth is not automatic. This scripture teaches us that God gives us the ability to gain wealth and not wealth itself. Just because someone has the ability to gain wealth does not mean that they will become wealthy. It takes personal effort, diligence, and perseverance to put those abilities to work to produce wealth. Sometimes, poverty is not the result of lack of ability but lack of effort.
  4. Wealth is not equal. It is a reasonable interpretation of this scripture that God does not necessarily give the same ability to gain wealth to all people, nor is it reasonable to believe that all people will use the abilities given to them by God with the same effort and effectiveness. We should not expect or seek a social system where everyone is equal in terms of wealth and riches. God proportions to us our abilities, talents, and giftings as He choses, therefore we should not expect everyone to be equal or for life to be equatable.
  5. Wealth is created. Wealth involves investing raw ability and talent into enterprises that can produce wealth. The process of creating wealth should involve the production and delivery of products and services that are valued by others. Contrast this with gambling. In gambling wealth is exchanged, depending on luck, instinct, and sometimes trickery, rather than being created.
So what should be a government's position and policy on wealth and the wealthy? Here are some of my thoughts based on this scripture.
  • It is not the government's job to guarantee wealth. Wealth is the provision of God not the government. The government should never establish themselves as the providers of the people. In a recent presidential debate, someone asked the presidential candidates what they would do to help them to "find a job?" The candidates should have responded by saying, "Nothing!" Wealth is our responsibility, to use what God has given us, not the governments.
  • Government should not attempt to equalize wealth. God does not guarantee that wealth will or should be equal, and neither should the government. Unfortunately, in my country, the income tax system had become largely a system for the redistribution of wealth. The rich are taxed and their wealth given to others in the form of various social programs. It is not the government's job to make equal what God has not.
  • Government should not attempt to neutralize personal responsibility in creating wealth. Programs like welfare and the minimum wage serve only to reward people with "wealth" with out regard to personal effort. Welfare provides income without, in many cases, requiring the recipient to work, or even seek work. The minimum wage provides a minimum level of income without regard to a person's work ethic, their productivity, or their value to their employer. In these cases, a person's income level is decided by the government and not by their God given abilities and the effectiveness to which they use them.
  • Government should not foster the gaining of wealth through gambling. As I stated above, gambling is a means to gain wealth that does not provide for the actual creation or production of wealth. Whether gambling should be allowed in the private sector is debatable, but I firmly believe that it is wrong, immoral, and improper for governments to sponsor and promote gambling. It may provide revenues to the government, but it promotes an activity that I believe is contrary to the scriptures.

David Robison

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