Having posed the question I thought perhaps I should put some thoughts together. In my opinion the enormous financial bailouts and sell-offs of some of America’s most elite banking and financial service firms together with recent stresses and strains in the UK markets (Northern Rock, Bradford & Bingley and the LloydsTSB/HBOS merger) are of enormous significance. Now, after a long period of so-called economic growth (much of which was based on the illusion of incredible levels of debt both personal and governmental) together with crazed consumerism, (prosperity gospel even), self-indulgence and plain greed at the highest levels, the outcome appears uncomfortable. We see the arrogant presumption that God, whether divinely or simply through natural economic law would continue to bless gluttonous madness and materialism, has finally been exposed for the sham philosophy that it truly is. In reality, what is now happening should be no surprise at all. The Bible states; “Do not be deceived: God cannot be mocked. A man reaps what he sows” (Galatians 6:7). We have of course in the UK long heard the message that the years of ‘boom and bust’ are over and that economic paradise beckons. This message encourages the casting off of all financial restraint and stewardship at every level of society – personal, corporate and governmental. You don’t need to be a rocket scientist to see that when you spend what you do not either earn of have saved, the ultimate outcome will be unpleasant.
Yet before the wailing and gnashing of economic teeth begins, it may be worth taking a few steps backwards, breathing deeply and taking stock of some alternative thoughts. America & the UK may think the world is facing financial Armageddon at present, yet maybe this is not the full picture. In trying to look at a Biblical perspective upon the world’s eschatological timeline, it can be assumed that the end time’s apocalypse is not yet upon the world. I must therefore assume that the world’s financial systems will yet survive and somehow even recover. This is undoubtedly cold comfort for the moment however.
So how significant are the recent economic troubles in the UK & America in relation to the rest of the world? The answer will of course be dependent upon where you live. Here are some statistics that I recently read – Indonesia has the 4th largest population in the world (227 million, compared to the US population of 302 million). Indonesia, according to estimates has a gross domestic product (GDP) of $488 billion in equivalent US dollar terms. The US economy by comparison is gigantic and measured at $24,195 billion, (29 times larger). Now during the Asian crisis of 1997-1998, an Indonesian citizen would have been tempted to perhaps draw the same apocalyptic inference as might an American or Brit would today. The Indonesian would have seen his country in a literal meltdown situation at that time. Many of its citizens suffered and even starved. Indonesia’s economy contracted by more than 20% between 1997 and 1998 (the stock market collapsing over 70% in 15 months), Yet to conclude that the world was about to cave in would of course have been incorrect. Does not the same perspective apply now? How so you may ask? The scale of the economics is completely different. My question is – How would God compare these two crises? Was Indonesia’s crisis of less importance simply because this country only represented 0.8% of the world economy (versus 23.5% for the US share)? Or, does God look upon the situation in terms of the sheer number of individuals affected? As already pointed out above, the populations of Indonesia and the USA are broadly similar. My bible tells me that the Lord cares for each and every soul individually. If that is so, surely God places more importance on people and their numbers rather than the contrived financial measurements of man. From such a vantage point, perhaps the current financial troubles we are experiencing are not as large in global terms as we may presume.
Yet aren’t the realities of the current credit crisis so large that it is sure to trigger the final world financial collapse? These are likely to be ‘famous last words’ but I suspect that the financial troubles will not prove to be the trigger of a total global financial meltdown (one of apocalyptic scale). That said, we are surely in for a volatile and at times quite confusing time. Bible prophecy (in my understanding) seems to indicate that when the Antichrist comes to supreme power he will be successful in commandeering the world and enjoining the collective authorities of 10 kings. How would he manage this if world financial systems were not operative? As such, I suspect that the world will, for now at least, eventually find some solution to its financial difficulties.
I wonder if in fact what is happening now is a disciplining of Western nations who are being called to turn away from the idolatries of wealth, materialism, self-sufficiency without God and their godless abandonment of the gospel. What then should Christians do? There are no easy solutions. Simple, godly stewardship is the best answer. It is an ideal time to really rediscover gospel truths, to trust in the Word of God as never before and to be a people who reach out to a world that has no ultimate answers, to show that our faith whilst tested is truly more precious than gold. Finally we should realise that real faith rejects any daft notion that the Bible was written to improve our own temporal prosperity and investment portfolios..