August 10, 2009
There are two things we can never have too much confidence in. Godâ€™s power and Godâ€™s goodness. This allows us to have a faith which sometimes appears irrational. We find ourselves saying despite all evidence to the contrary, â€œI believe God loves me with an everlasting love and ultimately all things will work together for goodâ€. The issue is not whether over-confidence is unwarranted or harmful...the issue is who or what is the object of our confidence. I love your statement Nathan that prayer is not a call to rational assessment.Paul was probably the most capable, well educated, trans-cultural scholar and theologian of the early church, yet when called to share the gospel of the Kingdom with the Corinthians Paul said â€œI came to you in weakness and fear, and with much trembling. My message and my preaching were not with wise and persuasive words, but with a demonstration of the Spirit's power, so that your faith might not rest on men's wisdom, but on God's power.â€ Paul presented the gospel to the Romans by by â€œthe power of signs and miracles, through the power of the Spiritâ€. Luke says that â€œGod did extraordinary miracles through Paul, so that even handkerchiefs and aprons that had touched him were taken to the sick, and their illnesses were cured and the evil spirits left them.â€ This lack of confidence in his own abilities was not because he was deficient in ability. It was because he was introducing them to a real, living God. He was not promoting new ethics, principals, philosophy, religous practices, de-constructive analyses, Bible study techniques or theology. He was not winning coverts due to his powerful preaching or grasp of hermaneutics. He was introducing them to a powerful, living and active Holy Spirit. The most convincing arguement Paul could make was to allow God to demonstrate His miraculous power through him. It is not possible to be over confident in Godâ€™s power or goodness.
Great link, Nathan. It reminded me of a story my father used to tell about a professional conman he knew. This conman said that the best marks, the ones who were easiest to fool, were 1) doctors and 2) airplane pilots. Why? Because they thought they knew everything. They were therefore very easy to snow; they didn't want it to look like they didn't understand the cock and bull story the conman was telling them, and so they pretended that they knew it all already. Faith has nothing to do with overconfidence, though, because faith is always based on the word of God. God is definitely not telling us to be overconfident, to think that we can move mountains or save the world in our own strength. He is telling us to believe in the promises in his word; if there is no promise it is not belief, but presumption.
Phillip Yancey said to Dean Nelson that "at the heart of the universe is a smile, an embrace". Thus, depending on what you are looking for, what you treasure, you can be confident, optimistic, hopeful.Ultimately, anything (e.g. Market Capitalism) contrary to God's objectives will be subdued and renewed or replaced.
I would choose â€œcertaintyâ€ or â€œassuranceâ€ rather than â€œoverconfidenceâ€ to describe oneâ€™s solid faith in God. Overconfidence has a negative connotation (it reeks of â€œselfâ€), and it seems to be such a â€œhumanâ€ trait, as we often become overconfident in ourselves and in our own abilitiesâ€”even in our ability to believe or to have faith. We forget that faith is a gift from God. Confidence has nothing to do with our own ability to attain a certain level of belief or faith; rather, it has everything to do with walking humbly with God, trusting God, and allowing Him to strengthen our faith as He proves Himself faithful to us again and again. It is impossible to be overconfident in a God who can do anything. Unfortunately, it is quite possible to be overconfident in our own ability to believe that God can do anything. (What happens when things donâ€™t go the way we thought they would?) When we misplace the foundation for our faith, we get into trouble.
I love your statement by Yancey that at the heart of the universe is a smile. However, I canâ€™t agree that it is self-evident that free market capitalism is contrary to Godâ€™s objectives. Selfishness is contrary to Godâ€™s objectives but that is a moral issue, not an economic issue. The perfect wife described in the Old Testament is a capitalist and is compared to a merchant ship. She is a small business woman, able to accumulate her profits. Out of those profits she speculates on real estate, purchases land and launches a vineyard. She makes sure she turns a profit (â€œShe sees that her trading is profitableâ€). She also makes clothing to turn a profit. She has identified a niche market for her sashes and focuses on selling to successful merchants. Accumulation of capital, private ownership of the means of production, private property and profits have always been Biblical ideals.Jesus was a small businessman for 30 of His 33 years. His fatherâ€™s carpenter shop was one of hundreds of privately own carpenter shops in Israel turning out chairs, doors and wooden goods for profit. No wonder so many of his proverbs were illustrated with allusions to investing in other businesses, ROI (return on investing) and earning interest at the bank. Peter and John owned several ships and supplied the Israel market with fish. Even in the first year of the church when early converts experimented with communalism, Peter made very clear personal property rights, the right to retain the profits from a sale etc. A large bit of Old testament law concerns itself with personal property rights. The excesses of capitalism are only exceeded by the excesses of communism, socialism, fascism, and other top down command economies. Our problem is selfishness, not capitalism. Overconfidence in any economic system to solve the moral problems of the world is misplaced. I would agree with you on that point.
There is nothing moral about market capitalism. There are two good arguments for capitalism, neither of them having a Christian foundation, both of them perfectly valid. (1) Accumulation of capital and investment is a powerful motor for development; (2) There are simply so many variables in a complex, densely populated world like ours that no council of elders, no bureau administrator, no commissar, no corporate CEO for that matter, can ever make all the decisions necessary, so a market allows these variables to play out. However, in economics, as in politics, without some rules and regulations and constitutional principles, bullies will emerge to dominate everything, not for the common good, but for their own aggrandizement. Capitalism is like hydrogen fusion: plenty of energy, but if not contained in a magnetic bottle, it will burn all it touches.I too like to quote the passage from the last chapter of Proverbs about the wife "more precious than rubies." Many of those who have wrapped themselves in Biblical morality to urge that women should be submissive, staying at home, etc. have cited this passage, and they obviously haven't read it. Yes, she does have independent discretion to spend family finances, she does make decisions about buying and selling real estate without her husband's permission. It seems her husband has nothing to do but sit in the gate with the elders, accepting praise for what a good provider his wife is. There are parallels in ancient Assyria, where women ran businesses of their own, and in feudal Japan, where women took care of money, because samurai shouldn't be bothered with such sordid details. But by no stretch does Proverbs tell us there is a market CAPITALIST economy at work in ancient Israel. This is a small producer economy, not a stock market building giant combines that draw wage labor employees from all over the eastern Mediterranean. I bet most of her family are the workers in the vineyard, and the rest are slaves or seven year indentured servants.
I suppose you can paint Capitalism in a certain light and it seems harmless. Yet I would argue that it is the main reason for massive abject poverty one the one hand, and decadent wealth for the upper crust. Remember market capitalism is not defined by "accumulation of wealth" - even chimps do that and they are not market capitalists.Market Capitalism says "Markets Rule" and maintains that they are self regulatory. Thus the buyer and seller determine the flow of goods and orphans fall out of the equation. Of course it's OK to have goods, to pay for them and not steal. The question is not: can I buy and sell, but how I buy and sell? Market Capitalism says: "if the price is right, do it".
There is nothing moral about any economic system. Itâ€™s like asking if bicycles are moral. People are immoral, not economies. I donâ€™t want to see this topic hijacked by questions about the morality of capitalism. But I would say, Israel enjoyed a form of primitive capitalism, embracing most of the key tenets and prepared the way for a modern, enlightened capitalism. I would suggest reading â€œWhat capitalism owes to the Book of Genesisâ€ From the Mais Lecture, delivered by the Chief Rabbi of the Commonwealth at City University, London at http://www.independent.co.uk/o....Or Antiquity and Capitalism By John R. Love or The Jews and Modern Capitalism By Werner Sombart, Samuel Z. Klausner. The literature is abundant.But much as I think capitalism has made a positive contribution and raised the standard of living for any nation that has adopted it, I would not want to be overconfident in itâ€™s abilities. In fact it appears that a perverted form of capitalism has a role in the destruction of the end times as seen in the book of Revelations. And isnâ€™t it like the devil to hijack any good thing. But I donâ€™t think this is the place to debate the merits of economic systems, I will stick to the topic of over-confidence. I didnâ€™t introduce the topic of capitalism into this blog and I wonâ€™t comment on it any more.
Thanks for your thoughts on keeping the conversation on topic. I agree. Maybe we can save the economic system discussion for another day.
Let's trace this BRIEFLY. Marc offers "market capitalism" as an EXAMPLE of something contrary to God's objectives, which cannot be sustained by any amount of over-confidence, even by a Christian. Rick then devotes two paragraphs to impassioned denial that free market capitalism is contrary to God's objectives. Then, when two people offer a contrary view, at about the same length or less, Rick concludes a legitimate rebuttal by saying he will henceforth stick to the topic, because he didn't introduce capitalism into the blog? (Technically true, but VERY technically).How could one say that market capitalism exemplifies over-confidence on the part of believers? Consider this juxtaposition assembled by Ambrose Bierce. Wealth is:"A sign from God, saying this is my beloved son, in whom I am will pleased." --John D. Rockefeller"The savings of many, in the hands of one."--Eugene V. Debs
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