Wednesday, January 31, 2007

False Balance

Christians sometimes speak as if we must find a balance between economic freedom and economic injustice. They tend to assume that economic freedom always creates injustice. This is wrong. Economic injustice cannot be resolved by reducing economic freedom. The solution to economic injustice is economic justice, ie for the criminal to make restitution to the victim.

Economic injustice actually reduces the economic freedom of the victim, so these two are not opposites. They are two sides of the same coin, so they cannot be balanced. Our goal should be economic freedom and economic justice.

Tuesday, January 30, 2007

The Common Good

I am concerned when I hear Christians saying that the state should do anything that will promote "the common good". They speak about the common good as if it was something knowable. Only God can know know what is good for everyone, but even for him the concept of a common good is illogical, because some things will benefit some and harm others. How can you add up these benefits and harms and arrive at a measure of the common good.

The "common good" is not a helpful concept. It usually becomes a slogan used to justify the social progamme of the person using the term.

What is the common good? Who determines that? Furthermore, what actions actually really accomplish the common good? There are not answers to these questions, so we should drop the concept because it really just a justification for state power.

Monday, January 29, 2007

Parable of the Tenants

Jesus told a parable about a man who planted a vineyard and rented it out to tenants. Whenever he sent his servants to collect the rent, the tenants would beat the servant and send him away empty handed. Eventually, in desperation, he sent his son. The tenants seized the opportunity and killed the son and threw him out of the vineyard. Jesus asked,

What then will the owner of the vineyard do? He will come and kill those tenants and give the vineyard to others (Mark 12:9).
The chief priests and the teachers of the law held political power under the Romans. They knew that Jesus parable was directed against them and from that time on they began to look for ways to arrest him.

The point of the parable is that God will destroy the existing tenants. The tenants represent the political powers of that time and our time. When God brings in his kingdom, he will remove the existing political powers. A kingdom cannot have two kings. A nation cannot have two Presidents or two parliaments.

Before the Kingdom of God can become a reality, all other kings, governments, parliaments and political powers will have to disappear. They will not be changed by the Kingdom of God, but will be gone. This means that we need a way of living in human community that does not need governments and political powers.

Sunday, January 28, 2007

Caring for the Poor (25) - Provide Employment

Sometimes the greatest need of a person who is poor is for well-paid work. Christians can help the poor by becoming employers. Being an employer costs more and is more risky than being an employee. This is a common reason for unemployment. Not enough people are willing to be employers.

The government cannot create jobs. Only employers can create jobs, so the best solution to unemployment is more employers.

Christians can help the poor by becoming employers. They have the wisdom of God and the confidence of faith, so they are well placed to start a business. If they already operate a business, they can look for ways to employ other people. Often the best thing that a Christian can do to help a poor person is to start a business and provide them with an opportunity for employment.

Saturday, January 27, 2007


A good quote from Oskari Juurikkala.

"Retirement" is a creation of the state. Before the establishment of government social security, no one would have thought about a period of idle leisure while waiting to die. In a free society, elderly people would continue to engage themselves in various professional and non-professional activities throughout their lives.

Friday, January 26, 2007

Angels and Prophecy

Angels are ministering spirits sent to serve God's children (Heb 1:14). They are sent by God. They serve God's people.

The LORD has established His throne in heaven,
And His kingdom rules over all.
Bless the LORD, you His angels,
Who excel in strength,
who do His word,
Heeding the voice of His word.
Bless the LORD, all you His hosts,
You ministers of His,
who do His pleasure. (Psalm 103:19-21).

Angels are created for obedience. They do not have the frienship with God that is opened up to us through the presence of the Holy Spirit. Angels often do not know as much about what is on the Father's heart as we do. They often "excel in strength", far more than they excel in wisdom and decision making.

Angels move between heaven and earth. When they are in heaven, they know what God is doing, because his Kingdom is established there. When they are on earth, they are dependent on other messengers from heaven to keep them up-to-date with what God is doing.

Angels are sent to earth tp serve us, but as events change develop, they often do not know what to do next. They sometimes have to wait for our prophetic declarations before they know what to do. When they hear the Holy Spirit's word through us, they do it. They recognise his voice and obey it. They listen to a prophetic word and work to accomplish it. That is one reason why God does nothing without first revealing his plan to his servants the prophets (Amos 3:7).

Speaking in the language of angels is good (1 Cor 13:1), because it helps the angesl to hear what the Holy Spirit is saying.

Free Markets (12) - Dreams and Reality

The market is the place where dreams and reality meet.

The managers of Ford dream about the success of their latest vehicle. They have spent millions of dollars on development of the new model and hope it will be the new Mustang. It hits the market, just after the release of an offering from Chrysler that is better and cheaper. The reality of the market turns the Ford dream into an Edsel.

A young man dreams about getting work at the local Ford plant. He will be set up for life, with a good lifestyle. When he is forty-five, the factory closes. Reality destroys his dream.

Another young man dreams about writing a novel. He is not very hopeful of success, but when the book hits the market it proves to be a bestseller, changing his life. Reality exceeded his dreams.

Thomas Edison dreams about using electricity to light up offices and homes. After many failures, he develops a light bulb that works effectively. Reality matches his dream and his dreams grow. The people of the world enjoy something that they had not dreamed was possible.

Every dream needs to be tested, but this is very risky, because sometimes dreams fail in the face of realty. The only way to avoid this risk is to leave your dreams as dreams.

A risk-free world is only possible for people who are willing to live in their dreams, but the world of dreams is actually a world of poverty.

Progress needs people who will dream big dreams. Even more, it needs people like Thomas Edison, who will test their dreams against reality by bringing them to the market again and again.

Some people would like to change the market so that dreams do not fail. This is like changing the football game so no one is injured. It could be done, but the game is no longer football. The only way to prevent dreams from being hurt by the market is to push reality out, but ignoring reality is dangerous.

Thursday, January 25, 2007

Free Markets (11) - Poverty?

Blaming the market for people being in poverty does not help them much. There are several reasons why a person may have lost their employment and become poor.

  1. Their employer might have been hard hearted and enjoyed punishing people by destroying their work opportunities.
  2. The employee might have been sinful and cheated their employer.
  3. The people who brought their employers output may have found a better supplier, or changed their tastes. They may now be buying something different.
  4. A pirate may be preventing the employer from getting their products to the market.

In the first case the employer is responsible for the poverty. In the second case, the employee is responsible. In the third case, no one is morally responsible. In the final example, the pirate is morally responsible.

Finding the real cause for the person losing their employment is more useful than blaming the market. Blaming the market is like blaming the football game for a football injury. If someone has sinned or done evil, they should be exposed and encouraged to repent. Christians with the spirit of wisdom and a prophetic edge should be really effective at exposing these evils. However, if the person is suffering was the result of a risky choice that went wrong, looking for someone to blame will not help. It is more helpful to give them some assistance.

God understood that economic uncertainty would result in some people ending in poverty through no fault of their own. In both the Old and New Testaments, he put in place methods for caring for the poor. The New Testament gives this responsibility to the church. This is what we are called to do. The church is responsible for the poor. If people are suffering on the street, the church is not doing its job.

This full article can be found here.

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Free Markets (10) - Risk at Ford

Leaving school in 1967 and getting a job on the production line at the Ford factory involved some risk. The Ford worker could have stayed at home to grow their own food and make their own clothing. The money paid by Ford offered a far better lifestyle that was judged to outweigh the risk.

If the factory closes because people stop buying Ford pickups, no one is necessarily to blame. The Ford managers may have sinned, but it is more likely that they guessed wrong about the future. Big businesses have more resources to study the future, but they should not make as many mistakes and individual might, but they can still get it wrong.

The people who replace their Ford pickup with a Toyota car have not sinned either. So no one is really to blame. The person took a risk by working at Ford and got it wrong.

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Free Markets (9) - Economic Risk

Participation in a market economy is risky, because no one knows the future. The safest way to live is in subsistence. If I grow all my food and and produce all my clothing, I have a high degree of security, because I am not dependent on anyone else. By putting in a water storage system, I could even eliminate my dependence on the weather. However, subsistence living is very inefficient, because producing food would take so much time that I would have very little time for making other things that I might want. The subsistence lifestyle provides security, but the cost is a very low standard of living.

Most people will prefer to specialise in something that they are good at. They will produce more than they need and sell it on the market (often their labour). The can buy the other things that they need with what they earn. This raises their standard of living, but it increases the risk, because they are now dependent on other, unpredictable people. If the other people lose interest in what I am producing, I may find that the price falls, or I am left with a surplus that I do not need and cannot sell. My standard of living will decline rapidly. I may even wish that I had stayed with subsistence living.

I may look for someone to blame, but no one has done evil to me. The people who stopped buying what I produced, because they could get something better elsewhere, did no wrong. I made a decision in the face of future uncertainty and got it wrong. I acted on the assumption that I would continue to be able to sell my surplus. Because my guess about the future proved to be wrong, I will suffer (just like the football player entering a collision).

I may want to blame someone, but no one is morally responsible for my plight. I cannot even say that I sinned. Making a mistake about the future is a human frailty, and not a sin. Only God knows the future. It may be that he warned me that my decision was a mistake and I ignored his warning, but I am not sure that he always does warn us in this way.

Participating in a market is always risky because the future is uncertain. I could avoid the risk by staying out of the market and producing all that I need for myself. But the returns to the risk of participating in a market economy are so great, that most people prefer to take the risk. It would be great if that risk could be eliminated, but the risk free life is a poor one.

Monday, January 22, 2007

Free Markets (8) - Football Analogy

If you can understand a football game, you can understand a market. It is just a group of people interacting in a different way. A football game is not a moral entity, but is an activity where people interact with each other. The decisions about what happens in the game are made by the people participating in it: players, owners, managers, referees.

People get hurt playing football, but I cannot say that I was injured by a game of football. Rather I was hurt by colliding with someone or falling heavily to the ground. It may have been deliberate, or it may have been accidental.

There are several people or groups of people that might be morally responsible for my (hypothetical) football injury:

  • The players who tackled me have been malicious and vindictive. They may have struck me in a way that breaks the rules of the game. One may have had an iron bar hidden under his uniform.
  • The people running the game could be responsible. They might be dishonest or wicked. They might have set the rules, so that more people get hurt, but this is quite unlikely. The people organising and controlling the game do make conscious decisions, so they are morally responsible for the consequences of their decisions.
  • An evil spirit may have tapped my foot, so that I fell awkwardly. Spirits are moral beings.
  • I have to take some responsibility for my injury, because I chose to play a high risk sport. I could have chosen to play tiddlywinks. It would have been safer, but might be boring.
  • The most likely reason for the injury is that several players, all playing hard and all abiding by the rules, collided and I got hurt. The players that hit me committed no sin. When I entered the collision, I was uncertain about the outcome. I assumed that I would be fine, so I took the risk. My injury was an accident, with no one directly responsible.

A bald statement that I was injured by the game makes no sense. The football game does not have moral responsibility, because it cannot make decisions. A football game does not think or decide. It cannot say, "I am going to injure the running back today."

When a footballer player is injured, another player, a referee or an administrator might be responsible. However, an injury is usually the result of a series of action by several people leading to an outcome that know one foresaw. If these people had perfect knowledge of the future, they would have done something different. In this situation, no one is morally responsible except the person who chose to put themselves in a situation where an injury could occur. No one can be blamed except the injured player.

Sunday, January 21, 2007

Free Markets (7) - Fear Idol

For many people, the free market is an idol of fear. Primitive people blamed bad harvests on failure to appease the weather Gods. They made an idol out of something that they feared. We know that the weather gods do not exist. Modern people like to blame the troubles of economic life on the free market. Some have built "the market" up into something evil with terrible powers to do harm. Oliver O'Donovan refers to the market as a personality and calls it Leviathan.

Markets do not regulate themselves. They adjust themselves, but like the brutish and short-sighted Leviathans they are, they trample people beneath their feet while the do so. (The Ways of Judgment, p.65.)
Donovan and those who fear the market are raising up an idol that does not exist.

The reality is that the market does not close factories and lay people off. This is done by the managers and owners of businesses. They might say that they market forced them to close the factory, but that would not really be correct, either. It would be more correct to say that the people stopped being willing to buy what the factory produced at the price that was offered.

To be morally responsible, an entity must be able to make decisions and understand the consequences of their actions. Markets cannot think. Markets cannot make decisions. So markets are not moral entities. The moral decisions are made by people participating in the market. They are the ones with moral responsibility.

Contrary, to what most people think, markets do not set prices. In fact prices are never really set. In a market, you can see offers to sell for a price. You can see other people offering to buy at a price. You sometimes see a transaction occurring at a price, when the offers of a buyer and a seller coincide, but that does not set the price. A transaction may never occur at particular price again, if no other buyer or seller is willing to trade at that price. Buyers and seller decide prices, by agreeing to a transaction at a particular price. But they only set the price for their transaction. Their deal may influence the price for later transactions, but it does not set a price.

Those who speak as if the market can make decisions, be morally responsible and cause evil are idolising the market.
Some people have built the market up into something mysterious and malignant with terrible powers to do harm. This gives them something to blame, but they have created an idol that does not exist. My approach is to demystify the market. A market is nothing more than communication and interaction between people.

Saturday, January 20, 2007

Free Markets (6) - Market Idol

In a comment on a previous post, Ted Gossard suggested that a problem with the market is that people idolise it. He is also concerned that the market leaves some people unemployed and poor. These are good concerns. I will answer these concerns and show how the are related in the next couple of posts.

People cannot idolise many things. Some Christians idolise the Bible, but that does not make the Bible immoral. The correct response to God word is to worship and obey him, but that does not stop people from idolising the word. People can make an idol of the game of football, but that does not make it morally wrong. God gave us the ability to communicate in markets. We should thank him for that gift and operate by his standards when active in markets. People can idolise the market but that does not make it wrong or immoral.

The sin of idolatry is in the heart is in the heart of the person idolising the idol, not the object of idolatry. A block of wood is not evil, because someone could make it into an idol.

There are two types of idol:

  1. Objects that we love
  2. Objects that we fear

We sometimes make an idol of something we love, but we also have a tendency to make an idol of something that we fear.

Some people in the United States are so passionate about the free market that they have made it into an idol. They allow the market to shape their lives and their morality. If something will sell, then it must be good. This is misguided, because God is the one who determines good and evil. Many things that happen in a free market are morally wrong by his standards.

For many people, the free market is an idol of fear. Primitive people blamed bad harvests on failure to appease the weather Gods. They made an idol out of something that they feared.

My approach is to demystify the market. Other people seem to build it up into something mysterious and malignant with terrible powers to do harm. It gives them something to blame, but they have created an idol that does not exist.

Friday, January 19, 2007

Christian Investors

Christian investors should think more about where they place their money. If there were more investors looking for companies that were generous to the poor, more companies would provide for this in their articles. Some companies may decide to target this niche and specialise in giving a specified portion of their surplus to the poor. These companies could be popular with Christians.

Christian shareholders should understand that they are responsible for the actions of their stewards in the companies they have invested in. They cannot pretend that they are not responsible for the company’s actions. An individual shareholder may not be able to change company policy, but they can always sell their shares, if they believer the companies actions are wrong.

Thursday, January 18, 2007

Corporate Generosity

A common question is whether companies or corporations should make donations to charity. Do companies have a responsibility to the poor. We should remember that the mangers and directors of a company are watching over capital/assets that have been entrusted to them by their shareholders. They are stewards acting on behalf of their owners. They can only take actions for which they have been given approval by the shareholders. The articles of the company put boundaries on the range of actions that can be taken by managers and directors.

Managers cannot take the assets of the company for themselves, as that would be stealing. In the same way, unless the articles of the company provide for donations to charity, managers would be stealing if they gave the property of the company away to the poor.

Most Christians will generally do their own giving. Then they can pray and give as God leads. This will generally be more effective than trusting a company to give money away on their behalf. On the other hand, there may be some large projects that can only be funded by a large company. However this should only be done if it is provided for by the company’s articles of incorporation.

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Free Markets (5) - Force Destroys

The more common way for a market to be overcome by evil is for a seller or buyer to force someone into a transaction that they do not want to make. Someone may be forced to buy something they do not want by someone who threatens to beat them up. Someone may be threatened into selling something at a price less than they were wanted. A buyer might be forced to pay a price greater than they wanted to pay. Once someone is forced into a transaction against their will, the benefit of the market disappears because one party to the transaction is make worse off.

Forced transactions take place when bullying tactics enter the market. This can happen at various levels. An adult might intimidate a child. An armed man may force someone to buy something they do not want. A gang may threaten a seller with violence. A country might invade another to establish trading privileges. In these situations the market is not evil. The evil is the perpetrated by the person or organisation that is forcing people to buy or sell against their will.
However, we should get our words right. These situations no longer be fit the word market. A better word would be organised extortion. There is no doubt that organised extortion is evil.

The most common way for force to enter a market is when the government enters the process. It may start setting the price or place limitations on who can buy and sell. When this happens the market is partly destroyed as some of the participants in the market will be made worse off. Some will be forced to take pay price higher or lower than they wanted. Others may be forced to sell against their will or at a lower price than they wanted. However, the result is no different from the organised extortion described in the previous paragraphs.

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Free Markets (4) - Evil

The market system is made up of a great number of different markets, ranging from flea makers to shopping malls to futures markets. Each of these is an information system that allows people to buy and sell different types of good and services. Sales only occur when both the buyer and the seller are made better off. All market transactions make the people involved better off, and those not involved not any worse off. A market does much good and no harm.

A market can be overcome by evil. One way is for a market to start selling things that are evil. One example is the slave trade. Most people would agree that this was a terrible evil. However, a market for slaves did not develop, because markets are immoral. A slave market could only function if there were people willing to buy and others willing to sell humans and perhaps others willing to enslave humans. These people did the evil, not the market. They created a market in evil, which is the worst evil.

Monday, January 15, 2007

Free Markets (3) - Benefit not Harm

Markets benefit people.

A market must allow sellers to display what they want to sell and allow buyers to make offers. However, a market is only successful if a significant number of sales take place. Buyers and sellers attend a market because they know that there is high probability of concluding a transaction with other people.

A market is an information system that allows people to buy and sell goods and services. In the Sunday market this information is provided by displaying the goods for observation. On eBay people display photos of their goods and detailed descriptions, instead of carrying them to the market. This reduces the costs of selling.

Transactions in the market only occur if two things happen. First, the seller must want the money being offered more than they want the thing they are selling. Second, the buyer must want the thing being sold more than they want the money they are offering. Both the buyer and the seller are better off after the transaction is complete. The buyer has a good they wanted. The seller has the money they wanted. This is the great benefit of a market. It allows people who do not know each other to engage in transactions that make all parties to the transaction better off.

No one is made worse off by a market. The only people disappointed at the market are those unable to sell the items they hoped to sell. They were unable to find someone who valued the item higher than they did, but they still have what they came with, so they are not worse off. Some potential buyers may be disappointed if they did not find what they want, but they still have the money they came with, so they are not worse off. An arrangement that makes lots of people better off, and harms no one, cannot be called evil.

Sunday, January 14, 2007

Free Markets (2) - eBay

Another well known market is eBay. It is even harder to see. I can look at eBay on my computer screen. I could visit San Jose in California and see the eBay offices and the banks of file servers, but I would not really be looking at eBay. The reason is that eBay is really an information system.

eBay holds various types of information. Vendors record descriptions of items that they want to sell and give an indication of the price they want to receive and instructions for payment. Purchasers record the amount they are willing to pay for an item and the address that they want it delivered to. A sale only occurs when the buyer and seller agree on the price. Completed transactions are what make eBay a successful market.

eBay consists of people and information about articles for sale stored on a computerised information system. The people can be evil, but most are not. The articles for sale good may be evil, but most are not. The information recorded might be immoral, if it is deceptive or malicious, but most is not. Evil can be done on eBay, just like at the Sunday market. Sellers may lie. Buyers might cheat. Evil things may change hands. However, whenever an evil occurs, it can be tracked to a person or group of people who were responsible.

The strength of eBay is that it provides a facility to expose immoral people. This also happens at the Sunday market too. The word soon gets around about bad products or unreliable vendors, but word of mouth is slower at transferring information.

Saturday, January 13, 2007

Free Market (1) - Evil System?

Some Christians see the market system as an evil system. The problem with this view is that a market is an abstract concept and not a real physical thing. A market often cannot be seen.

The most visible market that I know is the Sunday market operated by a Rotary Club on a Racecourse in the city where I live. In Europe it would be called a
Flea Market and the UK it might be called a Car Boot sale. Vendors rent a site and set up a stall at which to sell their goods. Some are quite sophisticated, offering a delivery service and accepting credit card transactions. Most just accept cash. Large numbers of people come through the market looking for bargains.

When I look at the market all that I see is:

  • A piece of land marketed out in squares with walkways between.
  • People selling things that they have made or are surplus to their needs.
  • Purchasers carrying the goods they have bought.
  • A rotary club member collecting fees from stall holders.
  • A car park full of cars.
  • A row of Portaloos that have been brought in for the day.

The combination of people and things is described as a market. Is it evil? Of course not! Land, people, goods and portaloos are not evil in themselves.

Can evil occur at this market? Yes. Evil can take place in a variety of ways.

  • A visitor might shoplift from a stall.
  • A vendor might be selling goods that are faulty
  • A vendor might be selling a land mine.
  • A visitor might assault a vendor.
  • A vendor might sneak off early without paying the fee.
  • A vendor might lie about the quality of the goods they are selling.
  • A vendor might threaten to “beat up” a person, if they do not purchase an article that they have picked up.

A variety of evils can occur at a market, but that does not make the market evil. A market cannot take actions or make decisions. A market cannot be good or evil.

The evils listed above are all perpetrated by people: visitors, purchasers, vendors. Not all visitors, purchasers, or vendors are evil, but only those who do something wrong. The market is not evil. The piece of land is not evil. The goods are not evil, except for the land mine. The Portaloos are not evil, provided they are kept clean.

The rotary club is not responsible for any evil that occurs at the market, nor is the racing club. To suggest that they are responsible for what happens at the market is absurd. On the other hand, it may be in their interest to engage a security guard to minimize evil. If things got out of hand, the market might decline and they would suffer.

People can do evil at a market, but the market is not itself evil.

The full series is here.

Thursday, January 11, 2007

Evil Systems (2)

Sometimes evil is translated into the legal system. This is what I think most Christians are referring to when they talk about systemic evil. Evil laws can take various forms. Government may provide protection for corporations to rob the poorer people in society. Tariffs may be used to prevent some people from trading. Governments can perpetrate evil in a variety of ways.

Nevertheless, all evil laws and regulations are put in place by individuals. If the law has been imposed by a king, he is responsible. If the law was passed by a parliament, each of those who voted for it is accountable. If the unjust law was passed in the past, then the current parliamentarians are equally responsible, because they have not changed it. Those who choose to benefit from the evil law are also accountable to God.

Wherever an evil system is in operation, there are people who have put it in place, people who refuse to change it, and people who choose to benefit from its. Often there will be groups of people working together. Ranting about an evil system is pointless. We must track responsibility back to those who established and those who maintain the evil system.

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Evil Systems (1)

Christians who are concerned about poverty often blame the “system” for poverty. The problem with this is that no one is very clear about what the system is. It can be a bit of a cop out, because if the system is the problem, then no one is responsible or accountable. Systems cannot choose to do evil.

If we want to deal with evil, we must track it back to the person or group of people who are perpetrating it. Evil always starts with individuals. Individuals can evaluate options and value things. Individuals make decision and take actions. Individual people can choose to do good and they can choose to sin.

Sometimes people get together in groups to do evil, but each individual choose to join the group and not to opt out of it. Sometimes one person decides to dominate the rest if the group and the other decide to go along for the benefits. Nevertheless all the decisions and actions are taken by individuals, who are accountable to God for their behaviour.

Evil actions taken by people with power over other people amplify the impact of evil. An evil person with political power or economic power can do more evil than an ordinary person.

This full series is here.

Tuesday, January 09, 2007

Caring for the Poor (24) - Justice and Mercy

Mercy does not need to be very discerning. Wherever there is a need, mercy responds immediately, regardless of the cause. Mercy does not wait to work out whether the cause is bad luck, poor stewardship or injustice, but responds to the human need need as soon as it appears.

Mercy is never wasted. If the cause of povery is injustice, mercy is still the best initial response. Dealing with injustice takes time, so the mercy assists the while justice is being established.

Mercy gives without asking too many questions and imposing to many requirements. It is happy for the recipients to give account to God for how they use the gifts they have received.

Mercy will sometimes be ripped off, but that does not matter because our blessing comes from giving, not from the righteousness of those who receive. Jesus was ripped off many times, so we should not be suprised that we experience the same.

Mercy helps people who have been messed up their own lives by poor economic stewardship. Mercy is right at the heart of what Christians are called to be. Mercy must triumph over judgement, so being merciful is more important than identifying bludgers.

On the other hand, Christians should be leaders in identifying and challenging in justice. We have the wisdom of God, so we would be the first to identify injustice. We have the boldness of the Spirit, so we should be shouting the loudest against injustice. If we had a fully developed prophetic ministry in the church, we would be zealous in exposing and challenging injustice.

God is just, so his people should never be blind to injustice. Unfortunately, the church has got rather good at supporting the status quo. Part of the problem is that we are not even certain on what injustice is anymore. Injustice is hard to find if you do not know what you are looking for.

Justice and mercy are not in conflict. They work together. Christians must get better at both.

The complete series can be found here.

Caring for the Poor (23) - Jacob and Laban

Jacob and Laban were both shifty operators, so they are not really good examples to follow, but they do provide an example one person helping another to build up their capital. When Jacob went to live with Laban he owned no capital. Laban captialised Jacob's wages by paying him with breeding ewes. Jacob was able to build up his own flock, while not neglecting Laban’s flock. This was an early win-win situation.

Christian business operators could look for ways to help some of their employees build up their own capital. Shares for salary is one possibility, but it would better to provide employees with capital that would supplement their skills and equip them to start their own businesses.

Businesses people could see themselves as reverse apostles, training up skilled people and sending them out to start new businesses. This is the opposite spirit to the world, which always tries to bring new things back under the control of the centre.

Monday, January 08, 2007

New Year Predictions

Many Christians make predictions or set out their expectations for the new year. I have never the point in doing this, because I do not think God manages history on a year-by-year basis. He works in terms of seasons and epochs, and the next epochal event is some way away. Nothing happened in heaven when 2006 clicked over to 2007, so we should not expect anything different on earth.

The truth is that God has already given us all the we need: the cross, the gospel, the scriptures, the Holy Spirit. I suspect that what will happen in 2007 depends much more on on how serious we are in taking hold of what God has already given us and doing what he has called us to do. So 2007 lies in our hands.

I am certain that God wants to do amazing this year, just as he has wanted to do in every year for the last two thousand years. He just needs his people two get in tune with what he is doing.

Caring for the Poor (22) - Sharing Capital

An important part of caring for the poor is to get capital goods into the hands of the poor. This will make their efforts more productive, which should increase their income and wealth. A more equal distribution of capital will be an important step toward the elimination of poverty. The prophet Isaiah looked forward to a time when every person would own their own capital.

Every man will sit under his own vine and under his own fig tree, and no one will make them afraid, for the LORD Almighty has spoken (Mic 4:4).
If every person owns some capital they will be able to provide for themselves in most circumstances.

The market will not provide equality of capital, because it tends to reward the most successful entrepreneurs by increasing their capital. Through the normal working of the market, some people will accumulate capital as they make good decisions and others will lose their capital either through mistakes or adverse circumstances.

The land laws of the Old Testament were designed to maintain equality of capital in a time when land was the main form of capital. If someone became poor and sold their land, it had to be restored to them at the time of the Jubilee. This ensured that the distribution of land remained roughly equal.

When Christians get serious about dealing with poverty, we will have to find ways to share capital. Interest free loans are one way of transferring capital, but we will need to find others others that work in the modern world.

The complete series can be found here.

Sunday, January 07, 2007

Kruse Kronicle

I have had an interesting discussion about mercy and justice with Michael Kruse at Kruse Kronicle.

Iron sharpens iron.

Caring for the Poor (21) - Justice and Mercy

Mercy should always be much busier than justice. Justice has nothing to do in many situations, because there is no injustice. Mercy should be busy all the time, because there will always be people who are worse off than others and in need of assistance.

I am concerned about an increasing trend to use the word justice, when mercy is really required. Some Christians see all inequality as a cause for justice. They equate justice with equality of income or equality of wealth. Every inequality requires justice, whether Gods law has been broken or not. This confusion is dangerous, because it turns mercy into a legal obligation.

Confusing justice and mercy causes every inequality to be seen as an injustice that someone has a legal obligation to correct. Often that obligation is placed upon the civil government, so mercy-converted-to-justice becomes the basis for state sponsored redistribution.

Justice and mercy are both concerned with equality, but in different way. Justice requires equality before the law, so that everyone receives justice, whether they are rich or poor. Justice should provide equal justice to everyone, but it will not give everyone equal incomes or equal wealth.

Mercy is much less concerned with causes and is more concerned with equality of outcomes. Mercy works through voluntary giving and sharing. As mercy becomes more effective, incomes and wealth will become more equal.

Saturday, January 06, 2007

Caring for the Poor (20) - Justice and Mercy

Justice has become a common catch cry for Christians in the modern world, but the word is used in a variety of different ways. I am concerned that mercy and justice are being confused. Mercy is helping a person in trouble, regardless of what caused their problems. Mercy is the outworking of compassion, so it should be normal for Christians.

Justice is different from mercy, in that it has a judicial context. Working for justice means correcting injustices. An injustice occurs when a person or group of people are harmed as consequence of someone breaking one of God’s laws. For example, if someone steals my car an injustice has be done. The biblical solution to that injustice is for the thief to make restitution to their victim. Restitution restores justice.

In the same way, if multinational company takes native lands without payment or permission, a theft has occurred. This crime breaks God’s law, so it is an injustice. Justice can only be achieved by the restitution of the land or equivalent financial compensation. Christians should be calling for justice in every situation where an injustice has occurred.

However, there are many other situations where a person or group of people are in dire circumstances through the circumstances of life. They may have made some mistakes or experienced an accident, but no injustice has occurred. These situations require compassion and mercy, not justice. There is no injustice to put right, because none of God’s laws has been broken. However, there is plenty of room for mercy, because Christians should always be assisting those in need.

Injustice requres judicial action to restore justice. Harmful situations require mercy. We must understand the difference. Christians should be zealous for justice and mercy.

The complete series can be found here.

Friday, January 05, 2007

A Bit More on Caring for the Poor (19) - Justice

A key aspect of caring for the poor is assisting them to obtain justice.

Do not deny justice to your poor people in their lawsuits (Ex 23:6).
Poverty is often the consequence of illegal activity by powerful people and companies. Poor people often do not have the resources to do battle against those who would deny them justice before the courts. They often give up, when faced by a rich adversary. The justice system often does not help them, because it tends exclude outsiders.

Christians should get involved whenever the legal rights of the poor are being "rolled". We should be the first to assist poor people to obtain justice. Christian lawyers should take up some of these cases and take on the people who using their legal skills to walk over the poor. Other Christians might provide legal support for lawyers who assist the poor. God is on the side of the poor, so Christian lawyers who work for the poor are working with God.

On the other hand, we must not be biased against the poor. Some people who care about the poor want to resolve poverty by taking political action against the rich. This is as wrong as refusing justice the poor.
Do not follow the crowd in doing wrong. When you give testimony in a lawsuit, do not pervert justice by siding with the crowd, and do not show favoritism to a poor man in his lawsuit. (Ex 23:2,3).
God requires justice to be impartial. His justice does not favour the rich or the poor. True justice always penalises law-breakers and favours their victims.
Do not pervert justice; do not show partiality to the poor or favoritism to the great, but judge your neighbor fairly (Lev 19:15).

Thursday, January 04, 2007

Justifying War

What is the value of a human life?

We can really only value our own lives. Most of us would give anything we own to stay alive. On the other hand, there are very few things that we would die for. Some would be willing to die to save the life of their spouse or a child, but that would be a hard decision. Few of us would be willing to die for anyone else. We all place a very high value on our own life.

If a single life is worth such a high value, what are a thousand lives worth? Yet even a small war these days will cause a thousand casualties. What cause could be worth a thousand lives? I find it very hard to think of one.

The implication is important. There are almost no situations where the uncertain benefits of war sufficiently outweigh the cost to justify war. Maybe there are none at all.

Wednesday, January 03, 2007

The Power of the Full Gospel

Quote from Rodney Stark’s new book, Cities of God: The Real Story of How Christianity Became an Urban Movement and Conquered Rome.

The power of Christianity lay not in its promise of otherworldly compensations for suffering in this life, as has so often been proposed. No, the crucial change that took place in the third century was the rapidly spreading awareness of a faith that delivered potent antidotes to life’s miseries here and now! The truly revolutionary aspect of Christianity lay in moral imperatives such as “Love one’s neighbor as oneself,” “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you,” “It is more blessed to give than to receive,” and “When you did it to the least of my brethren, you did it unto me.” These were not just slogans. Members did nurse the sick, even during epidemics; they did support orphans, widows, the elderly, and the poor; they did concern themselves with the lot of slaves. In short, Christians created “a miniature welfare state in an empire which for the most part lacked social services.” It was these responses to the long-standing misery of life in antiquity, not the onset of worse conditions, that were the ‘material’ changes that inspired Christian growth.

Pentecost and Kingdom

The coming of the Spirit will bring the collapse of kings and governments. Peter preached these words on the day of Pentecost.

I will pour out my Spirit on all people. Your sons and daughters will prophesy, your young men will see visions, your old men will dream dreams. Even on my servants, both men and women, I will pour out my Spirit in those days, and they will prophesy. I will show wonders in the heaven above and signs on the earth below, blood and fire and billows of smoke. The sun will be turned to darkness and the moon to blood before the coming of the great and glorious day of the Lord. And everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved (Acts 2:17-21).
Peter was describing the outpouring of the Spirit on the day of Pentecost. People of all ages had been touched by the Holy Spirit. The three thousand people who called on the Lord that day were saved.

Peter said that after the coming of the Spirit, the sun would be turned to darkness and the moon to blood. He was not prophesying literal events in the sky, but using normal Old Testament imagery for the destruction of a kingdom. The prophets often described the collapse of a great nation or empire in similar language. For example, Ezekiel used the following words to describe the defeat of Egypt by Babylon.
When I snuff you out, I will cover the heavens and darken their stars;
I will cover the sun with a cloud, and the moon will not give its light (Ez 32:7).
The words give a graphic description of Egypt being overcome by a greater power. This prophecy was fulfilled when Pharaoh lost his throne.

The sun and moon are symbols of kings and empires (see also Isaiah 13:6, 20,11; 24:21; Jeremiah 15:8,9; Amos 8:9-11), so Peter was warning that the coming of the Holy Spirit would bring the collapse of human kings and governments. Instead of calling on them for salvation, people will call on the name of the true Lord, who is Jesus.

Towards the end of his message, Peter said,
God has raised this Jesus to life, and we are all witnesses of the fact. Exalted to the right hand of God, he has received from the Father the promised Holy Spirit and has poured out what you now see and hear. For David did not ascend to heaven, and yet he said, “The Lord said to my Lord: "Sit at my right hand until I make your enemies a footstool for your feet." ' Therefore let all Israel be assured of this: God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Christ (Acts 2:33-36).
The outpouring of the Spirit is proof that Jesus has been exalted to the right hand of God. He will remain there until all his enemies have been defeated. Peter declares that Jesus has been made Lord and Messiah. These are both political terms. Part of the work of the Holy Spirit is to bring all things into submission to Jesus. When that happens there will be no role left for human kings and governments. They have no place in the kingdom of God.

Christians are keen to see visions and dream dreams, but we are not so excited about the impact of Pentecost on kings and governments. I am not sure why?

Tuesday, January 02, 2007

Poltiticians and Pharisees (12) - Different Kingdom

The Kingdom of God is totally different from the kingdoms of man.

Jesus said to them, “The kings of the Gentiles lord it over them; and those who exercise authority over them call themselves Benefactors. But you are not to be like that” (Luke 22:25-26).
We do not get this. In the Kingdom of man, the political rulers lord it over other people while claiming to be their benefactors.

Most Christians find the modern political system acceptable, but they believe that it would work better, if Christians controlled it. They assume that in the Kingdom of God, Christians will lord it over other people and be their benefactors. This implies that the Kingdom can come if Christians gain a majority in Parliament or Congress.

If we believe this, we have missed the point of Jesus statement. When the Kingdom of God comes, the reins of power will not change hands, but will disappear. The kingdom of God means freedom. There will be no “lording over” by anyone, and especially not by Christians. Christians should not seek to control the political system, because the political system is part of what is wrong with the modern world.

In the kingdom of God, we will not need parliaments to make laws, because we will use God’s law. People will be led by the Spirit, so they will not need politicians to make them do good. If Jesus is Lord, then the political powers are not. As the Kingdom of God grows, the power of the political system must decline and disappear.

This is the final post in this series. The full series can be found here.

Monday, January 01, 2007

Poltiticians and Pharisees (11) - Worst Woe

The worst woe is the final warning that Jesus gave to the leaders of Jerusalem.

Look, your house is left to you desolate. For I tell you, you will not see me again until you say, 'Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord (Matt 23:38,39).
This solemn warning was fulfilled in AD 70. Jerusalem was besieged by the Roman armies and destroyed. All the residents of the city were slaughtered, including the Pharisees and Teachers who had challenged Jesus.

The seats where the Pharisees and Teachers sat were destroyed. Moses seat is not a safe place to be sitting. The seat from which law is given is God’s seat. He will not let anyone sit on it; not even Moses.

Politicians and rulers who pretend to sit on Moses seat today are also sitting in a dangerous place. Before the Kingdom of God can come, human kingdoms will have to be swept away. The time will come when the human parliaments and congresses are also left desolate.
Then the kings of the earth, the princes, the generals, the rich, the mighty… hid in caves and among the rocks of the mountains. They called to the mountains and the rocks, "Fall on us and hide us from the face of him who sits on the throne (Rev 6:15-16).
Human legislators are not needed in the Kingdom of God, so parliaments and congresses will empty out as the kingdom comes. They will be left desolate and empty. Those who will not submit to the Spirit will be swept away by the evil they have created.

The people of Jerusalem were so shocked by the suggestion that the temple would be destroyed, that they just could not even understand what Jesus was saying. We feel the same way about the British Houses of Parliament and the American Capitol building. Nevertheless, they will not be needed in the Kingdom of God.