A Financial Theodicy
What is theodicy? Theodicy is the term given to what is otherwise called the problem of evil. That problem has been outlined in three statements that many say cannot all be true. Those statements are: God is all-good. God is all-powerful. Evil exists. The Christian realizes that to abandon any one of those statements would be a direct denial of scripture. Many say this is a problem, but there is actually no problem when it comes to Scripture. You simply have to add one more statement: The all-good, all-powerful God has a morally sufficient reason for the evil that exists. This means that the only actual problem is found in the human heart. Will we trust this God? Many refuse to do so.
There is another kind of theodicy, if you will, that exists in the world of economics. There are three realities that people say cannot all co-exist in a substantial way. While these are not as precise and unmoving as the issues above, the interplay between the three realities tends to create a real problem for many. Those realities are debt, saving, and giving. Many think, or at least live, that you cannot do all three at once in any substantial way. You cannot be in debt or saving, and yet be a giving person. Or you cannot have debt and be giving, and have any left for saving. Or you can’t really be a person who saves and gives, and sustain debt.
Let’s look at all three of these, and how each relates to the others.
Giving is like forgiveness. Everyone praises it, until a situation arises where they must do it. This must change, so what must we know about giving? I will lay out a few principles, but the real rub comes when debt and savings are considered. Giving will be filled out more in those sections. From Adam to Moses, people gave to the God who gave them everything. Cain and Able brought offerings, and Abraham and Jacob gave a tithe (at least once). When the law came there were two elements of giving. One was like a tax to support the theocratic system and was made up of three different tithes. One was to the Levites (Num. 18:21, 24); another for sacred festivals (Deut. 12:17-18; 14:23); and lastly a tithe paid every three years for widows, orphans, and the poor (Deut. 14:28-29). The other element was voluntary offerings. This was giving that flowed from the joyful expression of the heart. In the New Testament, we don’t live in a theocratic society so our tax goes to our government. But the call to give voluntarily remains as large as ever. That call is to everyone regardless of wealth or poverty. Paul, speaking of giving in 1 Cor. 16, says “each one of you.” That same chapter says to give as you prosper. So, some will be able to give much more. Don’t forget that that Ephesians 4:28 says the job you have is not just for meeting your needs and providing a service, but so that you will have something to give. The real excitement comes with other statements. Acts 20:35 records Jesus saying that “it is more blessed to give that to receive.” So, how much blessing do you want? 2 Cor. 9:6 says “he who sows sparingly will reap sparingly, and he who sows bountifully will also reap bountifully.” So, how much do you want to reap? The last stunning promise is in verse 10 which says God will provide seed for sowing. Our God actually gives to us so that we can give. He provides for us to increase our standard of giving not our standard of living. So the true question should never be, “how much do I have to give,” but “how much blessing and reaping can I get in on?” It will be a rare American who cannot give more than 10% simply because we are that kind of prosperous nation.
While the Bible gives guidelines for debt, they always have to do with extreme measures. Debt is a problem you seek to avoid, not an opportunity to jump into. Sadly, most people jump into debt so often it is as if they live life on a trampoline. Randy Alcorn put it well when he said, “We drive our bank-financed cars, running on credit card gas, to open a department store charge account so we can fill our savings and loan-funded homes with installment-purchased furniture. We’re living a lie and hocking the future to finance it.” For most, debt is a tool to finance sinful greed and selfishness. Because so many are shackled with debt, they feel they must pay everything they make to get out of it. They do need to get out of it as soon as possible, but giving is as much a responsibility as bills. The call then is to change your heart first. When it comes to money, nothing changes the heart quicker than giving. Begin giving all you can, while at the same time paying your creditors. Then, in repentance, begin to sell those items that you financed due to your selfish greed. You will lose money, but you will gain wisdom and freedom. Only finance those things that are absolute necessities, and which are basic, not extravagant.
Saving is what you do when you live in a sin-broken world. We know what is going to happen to our cars, our homes, our washing machine, and our bodies. They are going to break. Why? Because they are all a part of this fallen world. Sometimes we know when things will wear out; most of the time we don’t. Therefore we need to have savings in place for these realities. The problem here is fear. Some people are so sensitive to the reality that things break and problems come, that they cross the line from saving to hoarding. Their saving is actually for the purpose of insolating themselves from trusting in God. Instead of being channels of giving they become storehouses of selfishness. The difficult balance is to understand and apply the calls to save that are found in proverbs, yet not become like the rich fool who built bigger barns and took security in his storehouses (Luke 12:16-21). A few things are important to remember. First, everything belongs to God, including our savings. He can take it away or call us to give it away. Second, love for neighbor is still our controlling commandment. If I am unwilling to give out of my savings, which are for possible future needs, and ignore the present real need of my neighbor, then I have violated the second commandment. I demonstrate not only selfishness, but also a lack of trust in God to provide. Randy Alcorn again wisely says, “I don’t want to be a poor fool by not planning for the future. But I also don’t want to be a rich fool by over planning for it. Above all, I want to make plans for the right future, the eternal one.” When it comes to saving, give lavishly first, save second, pray for wisdom, trust God, and be ready to give savings away.