Monday, January 5, 2009

January 5 on Calvin's Centennary
Perspective on Economics- a middle way
Keep falsehood and lies far from me; give me neither poverty nor riches, but give me only my daily bread. (Proverbs 30:8 TNIV)“Do not wear yourselves out to get rich, have the wisdom to show restraint.” (Pr. 23:4)

The driving force for Calvin was not getting rich. Calvin knew that this world’s riches, popularity, and power were fickle and sure to fade. He gave his whole energy to honoring God. Yet Calvin also did not take a vow of poverty like many monks. He may have lived that vow personally- giving away much of his wealth to his family and friends who often lived with him and mooched off of him when he finally did have a house. How would this effect an economy? Calvin is accused by many as giving meaning and rise to the middle class. He did this, I believe, by encouraging the rich and noble to glorify God by giving, and encouraging the poor to do their best- believing God had a call for everyone in life. He also lifted up education creating the academy in Geneva. Education was a way for the poor to be able to read the Bible, know the world that God had made better, and to do their best to answer God’s call. What is public education today in America? For the poor, it is simply required by law for the poor and motivated so that people would not live in abject poverty. For the middle class it is a chance to get ahead and get a decent job and fit into society. What is lacking in America is a deep motivation. To get rich and have five houses and ten cars is not motivation enough. The shine wears off even of the abundance. Some are motivated in life by what I call good but survival mentality- environmental causes (saving the planet), health causes (helping us live longer). But after we have saved the planet (which I believe we should do), what then? Why should we live on it? After we have our health, what then? What do we do with our health?
Calvin pointed out that economically we are called (by God) to love our neighbor. The Christian practice of self-denial (foreign to much of American society today but was important for Calvin) is in part so we may love our neighbor. Calvin said, “Since every man is devoted to himself, there will never be true charity toward neighbors unless where the love of God reigns; for it is a mercenary love which the children of the world entertain for each other because every one of them has regard to his own advantage. On the other hand it is impossible for the love of God to reign without producing brotherly kindness among men.” (Corpus Reformatorum 45:612).
“Calvin did not consider riches as necessarily evil, nor did he consider poverty as especially conducive to Christian living. Riches are not to be condemned in themselves. Calvin thought it was a great blasphemy against God if one condemns the rich- for riches proceed from God. Calvin believed, however, that prosperity corrupts more people than all other afflictions of the world. Poverty also included temptations. Calvin saw that “poverty is no more an excuse for malice and theft than riches are an excuse for greed.”(Leith, John Calvin’s Doctrine of the Christian Life p.194).

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