We all know times are tough. The perfect storm of a bursting economic and housing bubble, a normal business cycle downturn, the subprime mortgage scandal and a presidential election year have all led to dire predictions, hopelessness and desperate measures.
Most people ask, “Where is it all going?” but the better question is, “What is God’s purpose in this recession?
Students of Scripture will agree that the God of the Bible is sovereign over all things, He foresees and permits or He causes them all. And when He causes or permits something, He does so with purpose and design.
“The lot is cast into the lap, but its every decision is from the Lord,” Proverbs 16:33 reminds us.
We will never know all of God’s plans for any event–He is God and we are not. But in a recent, and very timely sermon, Dr. John Piper points to several purposes that we can understand, and that are crucial for living abundantly in the midst of these challenges.
Possible reasons for the recession
1. God intends for this recession to expose hidden sin and corruption so to bring us to repentance and cleansing.
2. God intends to wake up the Western Church to the constant and desperate condition of the developing world where there is always and only recession of the worst kind.
3. God intends to relocate the roots of our hope, joy and confidence in Him rather than in our portfolios and politicians.
4. God intends to advance His Gospel and His church precisely at a time when human resources are least able to support it.
5. God intends for the church to care for its hurting members and grow in love for them.
6. God intends for His people to love their neighbors as themselves, moving forward in hope and confidence rather than in hoarding and fear.
Recessions bring repentance
The book of Job in the Old Testament calls Job “blameless and upright, one who feared God and turned away from evil” (Job 1:1).
But in the last chapter of the book, Job says,“I despise myself, and repent in dust and ashes” (Job 42:6).
He was “blameless,” but later he repented.
Piper asks, “What does this mean?”
What it means, he suggests, is that even the godliest people are like a clear glass of water with a sediment of sin hidden at the bottom of the glass. When the glass is shaken or struck–as with Job’s suffering, or with our recession–the sediment of sin is stirred up and exposed, and the water becomes cloudy. That’s one of the things that recessions are for.
As faithful as Paul was, God even brought him to the brink of death to teach him not to rely on himself but on God. If that happened to Paul, we can be sure that God is going to do that for us.
Socially, the recession reveals a host of sins that hurt people. The recent revelation of Bernard Madoff’s $50 billion Ponzi scheme is one of the clearest examples.
Legendary investor Warren Buffet (and others) have famously quipped that, “When the tide goes out, we see who’s been swimming naked.”
Recessions have a wonderful way of exposing what’s hidden. What does it expose about you?
Reminders of real recession
Prosperity blinds us to the miseries of the world. God has some remedies for that kind of indifference. Did you know that the state of Mississippi, while it has the lowest per capita income, also has the highest per capita rate of charitable giving?
If the recession bothers us, we should be bothered by the fact that while we sometimes live in recession, billions always live in recession. They live only in recession.
We need to know that 1 billion people do not have safe water to drink, 16,000 children die every day from hunger-related illnesses and almost 18 million children are orphaned in sub-Saharan Africa.
It’s good to have a reminder of these things. The recessions has a way of making us wake up to the endless recession experienced by billions. It has a way of changing our priorities and releasing our creativity, effort and capital (investment as well as aid) for the well-being of others.
Relocating the roots of hope
Piper also suggests that God sends recessions to His people to pull up the roots of our hope and joy from the ultimately bankrupt promises of this world and sink those roots into the eternal promises of God.
Second Corinthians 8:1-2 is a great example of this. The verse describes the roots of the joy of the Macedonian believers during their “recession.”
“We want you to know, brothers, about the grace of God that has been given among the churches of Macedonia, for in a severe test of affliction, their abundance of joy and their extreme poverty have overflowed in a wealth of generosity on their part,” the verse says.
This should be our dream for the Church–that we would be generous–and generous in every way.
Piper asks, “Where does this generosity come from–prosperity? No, it came from extreme poverty.”
The Church is supposed to take care of other’s needs. In this way, God tests us to see if we are a Church or a club.
Acts 4:34 says that in the early church:“There was not a needy person among them.”
He intends for His people to love their neighbors as themselves, moving forward in hope and confidence rather than hoarding in fear.
What makes people grumble and act stingy is a sense of entitlement. But if we have tasted the magnitude of God’s grace, we can have an abundance of joy in recessionary hardships.
Let me ask you, did you know that even the secular population during the Great Depression gave more of their income to charity than the Church does today?
If the recession can make us remove our hopes in the promises of this world and replace them with the promises of God, it will have refocused our gaze to heaven.
Showcasing God’s power to do the impossible
All over Scripture, God does his great advancing work when it looks least possible for us.
He promises an heir when Abraham and Sarah are too old to conceive. He splits the Red Sea when Israel is hopelessly trapped by Pharaoh’s army. He gives manna when there is no food in the wilderness.
He stops the Jordan River when it’s time to take the land. When a city stands in the way, He makes the walls fall down. When the Midianites are as many as the sand of the sea, God whittles Gideon’s army down to 300 so He gets the glory for the victory.
When Goliath defies the armies of the Lord, God sends a boy with a sling and five stones.
When the Son of God is to come into the world, God calls a virgin to conceive. And when the devil himself is to be defeated, a Lamb goes to the slaughter.
Why does God act so dramatically when things look the worst? To display His glory. That may be hard to swallow. A God that doesn’t need your help may not be the God you prefer. But it is the God of Holy Scripture. And like Aslan in C.S. Lewis’ “Narnia” series–he may not be safe, but he is good!
Paul Larsen is an investment advisor who provides counsel to ethical and spiritual investors. He also serves on the advisory board for Financial Seminary and can be reached at [email protected]