I was advising a student this week about potential university subjects. Normally I stay within my own science specialisation but somehow she had ended up in my tutor group despite her geography, sociology and economics A-levels. I realised I found it astonishingly hard to be positive about economics in the present climate. ‘It doesn’t seem to work’, I said, and she nodded with sad agreement. But were we being unfair to economics? Or were we simply asking too much of it?
It is interesting isn’t it, how hard it is to know whether the present appalling economic crisis is due to bad economic theory or bad economic practice. I suspect the problem is a combination of both. I remain unconvinced that we have a full understanding of the way a global economic system works. (If we do, why were there not greater warnings of disaster ahead?) I am definitely not convinced that we had enough safeguards to stop greed and corruption taking over. There seems little doubt now that we have sown not just the wind but a variety of winds and are now reaping the perfect whirlwind. Why did it happen?
I think that our churches must take some responsibility. It may not be attractive but I think it is our duty to repeatedly labour the fact – so basic to the Gospel – that human beings are sinful; that even the best of us find power so corruptive that we need the most rigorous safeguards to prevent abuse. Of course, such a message, even coupled with redemptive grace – is appallingly unattractive. But the fact of the matter is that good breeding and good education are utterly inadequate to give any protection against financial abuse. In fact, as we have always known, education merely makes for a smarter class of sinner. I used to work for a university which could easily have boasted that it had educated more Lebanese warlords than any other academic institution.
Anyway, it is to be hoped that the economic downturn is brief and it is equally to be hoped that we learn our lessons from it and institute global checks and balances that prevent the greed of a few producing the misery of the many. But I trust that I’m not being unduly pessimistic when I say that unless our churches preach more boldly the fallen and sinful nature of man I have doubts about the outcome.
Still let us rejoice. The exchange rate of the Bank of Heaven is unaltered and our investments there are utterly unshaken. That leads me to a final and more upbeat thought: maybe we need also to preach more, not just about sin but also about heaven.
Have a good week.