In the Present Tense

February 25, 2011

Economic Justice

Filed under: Culture and the Bible, Present Truth — edoutlook @ 6:07 pm

I recently was asked a question about “economic justice.” Here’s an adaptation of my reply


The problem simply comes down to this: Justice in the human realm is relatively easy to define. Equality before the law, and what is known as procedural due process, having the law applied fairly and consistently. Even this has its problems, but they are not insurmountable.

The problem comes when humans want to establish absolute justice. We just aren’t capable of it. Sinful people in a sinful world lack the ability to reach perfection in any endeavor. When we add the word “social” or “economic” to justice, we find it nearly impossible to define in a way that it can be administered. Put another way, we find it impossible to identify.  Two people work for an hour, doing the same work. But one is paid twice as much as the other. Is that justice? We have pretty good authority that it just might be. (Matt 20:1-16).

Absent that example, what if one worker can finish an hour’s work in half an hour, while it takes the other one twice as long? If the first worker does twice as much, is it just for him to receive twice as much?

I do remedial counseling with a 40+ year old retarded man. I counsel him while he’s at work. He gets paid his standard amount, probably about minimum wage. I get considerably more for the hour we spend together. Is that just?

Bill Gates has billions more than I do. Is that just? In economic terms he has improved the lives of tens of millions of people. Is it not just that he should receive a small portion in return for that improvement? And yes, his wealth, though prodigious for an individual, is dwarfed by the value his software brings to just our own economy. In 1970, most people didn’t know what “software” was. This year, software and computer-dependent jobs will contribute several trillion dollars to our economy. That doesn’t account for multiple years, or many other economies. One tenth of one percent (0.001) of a trillion dollars is $1billion.

Is economic justice receiving what one deserves? If so, how can that actually be determinde? It seems to me we would have to be God to determine that.

There are individuals, I’ll use pimps as an example, who not only don’t deserve the money they get, they owe enormous sums to everyone. But the only effective way to do that would be to enslave them, and use what they produce to provide restitution. And some of what they owe is not monetary, nor can money provide remedy.

But there are those who are homeless, or unemployed, etc., whom we wish to help. This is not “justice” but “grace.” I suspect what those who advocate “economic justice” really mean is something like “economic grace.”And even here we face difficulty.

For one alcoholic, a little help will be all that’s needed to give him/her hope, and encourage them to rehab. For another, seemingly in identical circumstances, that same help would be used to get by one more day. Would it be either gracious or just to give them the same help? I cannot see how it would be. But how could we know which is which, not being God, able to read hearts?

And yes, I know of just such a case. My wife’s brother received just enough aid to help him get by. When we offered him help, on condition that he not practice his destructive habits (while living with us), he declined. He died an early death of self-neglect and abuse enabled by welfare.

One economist has said, “scarcity is a tutor.” It seems that God agrees. Because one of the first actions He took after Adam sinned was to make food more difficult to produce, and thus more scarce.(Gen 3:18,19). Humans simply lack the wisdom to know when one has learned what the tutor has to teach, and when one needs more tutoring.

“Choose my instruction instead of silver,
knowledge rather than choice gold,
for wisdom is more precious than rubies,
and nothing you desire can compare with her. ”

Proverbs 8:10, 11.


February 3, 2011

The Currency of All Relationships

Filed under: Uncategorized — edoutlook @ 5:51 am

Recently I heard it said that “When Christians speak of ‘A saving relationship with Jesus,’ they’re really just talking about a feel-good empty religion.” I can understand why someone would say that, and in some cases it might be true. But just because some use the phrase without serious content, does not mean that it is necessarily so.

In fact, scripture gives more than a little guidance in this. We are told that the “just shall live by faith.” The problem is that the word faith has become overused and diluted. Faith has many meanings.  But here is the pertinent one:

1)belief and trust in and loyalty to God

I submit to you that the just live by trusting in God. And I am not alone in thinking so:

Faith is absolute trust in God–

trust that could never imagine

that He would forsake us.

Oswald Chambers


Faith is trusting God–

believing that He loves us

and knows best

what is for our good.


This fits in with the larger Bible narrative. The Serpent tempted Eve to distrust God, to doubt that He had been truthful. That seed of lies, deceit, and doubt has poisoned all relationships since that time.

Anyone who thinks that “trust” is empty or easy has no knowledge or experience with real relationships. We all have difficulty with trust. I am certainly no exception.

People are imperfect. They let us down even when they wish to be loyal. Of course, God will not let us down. We can believe that we trust God completely, even though we don’t trust others. But John warns us that may not be true:

If someone says

“I [trust] God,

and [distrusts] his brother,

he is a liar,

for the one who does not trust his brother

whom he has seen

cannot [trust] God

whom he has not seen.

1 John 4:20

Apparently, if we’re going to learn to trust God, we’ll at least have to try to trust other human beings. Now, that’s a challenge.

I wrote some time ago of first principles. Well, trust fits into that category. Things which promote and encourage trust are positive, and things which discourage trust and encourage suspicion are negative. That sounds simple, and it is. But like all first principles, it has implications and consequences that may surprise us.

Trust is indeed the currency of all relationships. Even with God.

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