It’s not hard to look through investment portfolios and feel grim right now, but how should believers respond to a potential financial crisis?
Now that COVID-19 is officially recognized as a pandemic, many nations are bracing themselves to take the economic hit of stalling business and trade.
“The last time stocks in the United States were in a bear market was during the height of the financial crisis, more than a decade ago,” the New York Times reported.
“A bear market begins when stocks have fallen 20 percent from their high. Though it’s a somewhat arbitrary threshold, in financial markets the designation acknowledges what many investors are surely feeling — that fear-based trading in the stock market may not end soon.”
Many company representatives are arguing that although comparisons to the 2007-2009 Great Recession are to be expected, the comparison is unwarranted. Their opinions aren’t having the effect they might wish, though, as the market numbers continue to be rocky.
Many right now are asking themselves some hard questions: ‘Do we withdraw all of our money? Do we invest more and hope the market starts climbing again soon? Do we look to the government for a bail out? What if this becomes as bad as the last recession? Is it wrong for me, as a Christian, to be concerned about my investments?’
How God Feels About Money
In a podcast on faith and finances, Gary Wilkerson and Jim Palumbo discuss where Christians’ responsibilities lay with their wealth.
“There's a philosophy of old Pentecostal holiness,” Jim pointed out, “a puritanical religious view of wealth, prosperity, material goods as being bad. Then you have the more modern sort of psychotic view that the whole purpose of the Bible and your relationship with God is to make you wealthy. I reject both of those philosophies.
“Every Christian should be saving and investing for the future and should be doing their very best, in principle, to make it grow. Doesn’t mean you have to take extraordinary risk. It doesn't mean you have to make unwise decisions, and there are biblical principles around that too….”
Chris Cagle, financial counselor and IT strategist, echoes this sentiment as he details common misconceptions that Christians have about money, two of which are “God will bless me financially if I work hard and have faith” and “God has promised to take care of me, so I don’t have to worry about money.”
“A more accurate biblical perspective is that God in his sovereignty gives some people more, and others less, to steward on his behalf (1 Sam. 2:7; Matt. 26:11). How and why he does so is his business, not ours. Mature believers may be either rich or poor (Prov. 22:2).”
Addressing the latter fallacy, he says, “God promises to take care of his children (Matt. 6:25–27; Phil. 4:19). But he also instructs us to take responsibility (and action) for our situation (Prov. 10:4–5). When it comes to finances, we have to do our part.
“Given the wise instruction we’ve received, we need to resist passivity and inaction, which presume on God’s kindness.”
We are called to be wise stewards of the resources God has given us, no matter how much the amounts may be; and if God moves and our stores are depleted through events we can’t control, then we must be wise with whatever we do have and trust God for the matters beyond our reach.
What Rests at the Heart of Security
Talking about trusting God during financial hard times is easy to do in abstract, but facing the cold, hard numbers of sinking shares or investments gone sour often feels like another matter. When we have faithfully used our money and resources to the best of our abilities but then disaster still looms, it can be tempting to scramble for any solution or explanation.
Gary Wilkerson pointed out in a sermon, “The first power of temptation is to get you to doubt that you're loved by God, accepted part of the beloved, that he speaks over you, ‘Well done.’
“Jesus had this amazing connection with his father. He knew who he was. He knew he was loved. When Satan came and tempted him in three different ways, the first one was to turn stone into bread. It was a temptation for security. It's born out of fear. ‘I don't have enough. I better work towards making something happen’….
“If you are the son of God, that's the first temptation. Now if I'm not sure of my security, I'm going to have to start trying to earn it through works, and I have to turn a stone into bread. I'm going to have to make things happen. It's based out of a scarcity mentality. The scarcity mentality says, ‘I don't have enough. I may not have enough. I'm afraid my children might not have enough. I'm afraid my job might not last. I'm afraid my bills may not be paid at the end of the month’
“There's this temptation to try to get security in your own strength. Jesus was faced with this, and he was able to overcome it. Not because he had everything he needed in the sense of ‘I've got all the money I want.’
“He didn't have any of that, but he's still able to stay secure. Why? Because he heard that voice that says, ‘I'm a son and I'm already loved just as I am. I am loved.’”
While we certainly ought to be wise with our money and seek council from financial professionals, we must also not allow ourselves to be tempted into struggling to ensure our own security. The moment we feel either bitter or frantic, we can be sure that our hopes have begun to drift away from God and onto our own powers to provide.
The Freedom to Live Radically and Hopefully
When the world spins out of control, how can we still accept a message of high expectations for the future? How do we, as Paul wrote, live with contentment even as dangerous events threaten us?
John Piper mused in his writings, “The statement that moved me most recently is Hebrews 6:17, ‘When God desired to show more convincingly to the heirs of the promise…’ It hit me so powerfully. It was so fresh, so needed, so precious. Namely, that God desires to show us convincingly that his saving purposes for us are unshakable. God wants me to enjoy the security of his good plans for me.”
God’s good plans may not always include financial security for us, but they will always be of the ultimate benefit for us, even if we don’t understand how yet.
Piper concluded, “Brooks tells the story of Alexander the Great, who gave away his gold when he went on a hopeful expedition. When asked why, he said, ‘For the hope of greater and better things.’ The same with us. If we are confident of greater and better things, we will have the freedom to live radically for Jesus.”
Anchoring ourselves in God gives us the ballast to weather life’s worst storms, even when it jeopardies everything the world tells us we need to be secure.