Elden Wiebe of Edmonton is dean and
associate professor of management at the
Find more of these columns at www.faithtoday.ca/
People of faith working in the business world often celebrate the incredible generative power of capitalism, and we enjoy its fruits on
many levels. Yet we also need to be
careful – even vigilant – because
the world of business is fraught
with what the Bible refers to as
These are forces that can claim
our allegiance, and some are particularly strong in the marketplace.
The veneration of the market itself is certainly one. Yes, the market
is a useful way to exchange goods.
However, in many contexts the
market has been defended as the
only viable mechanism for achiev-ing all good things.
That way of thinking ends up
accepting the market as an end in
itself instead of seeing it as a tool to
serve others. Even Christians can
find themselves thinking and talking about the market as though it
had godlike attributes.
For example, how many of us
think of the economy as all knowing
– something that “knows what we
need, what we want, how much we
should pay for it, and how much we
should get paid for selling to others”?
(Jim Wallis, Rediscovering Values: On
Wall Street, Main Street, and Your
Street, Howard Books, 2010).
We also sometimes think and act
as though the market is all powerful,
able to transform any aspect of creation into commodities and achieve
things we once only dreamed of.
It can seem as though the market
is becoming present in all places as it
is applied to more and more areas of
our lives that were once well outside
its realm, especially in education,
family, health care and museums.
While we work in the market,
we also need to resist idolizing it.
Isn’t it critical that we bring the
market into submission to the
Lord instead of finding ourselves
serving the market as though it
truly were omniscient, omnipotent and omnipresent?
Another faith challenge specific
to the business world is seeing vices
treated like virtues and virtues as
though they were vices.
Many of us recognize vices
treated as virtues when we find
people assuming “greed is good.”
Greed, so the thinking goes, fuels
the economy, and since the economy is of ultimate importance and
our success is measured by greater
wealth and material goods, greed
is in fact good.
But the Scriptures remind us
that greed is actually idolatry – it
puts something else in the place of
God. Colossians 3: 5–6 reminds us
that we are to put to death the sinful
nature, which includes greed, and
that it is because of such things that
the wrath of God is coming.
So greed is not good – and neither is the economy of ultimate
importance. Nor should success
be defined by the accumulation of
wealth (see the Beatitudes in
Matthew 5: 3–12).
Virtues being treated as vices is
often more subtle. How many Can-
adians assume the pursuit of our
own interests, desires, wants, needs
and greed will lead to the benefit of
society as a whole? We act as though
these are our main obligations, and
we tell ourselves that’s okay because
our own spending benefits the
economy and thus others.
This is the metaphor of the “
invisible hand,” taken from the writings of economist Adam Smith, a
sort of non-religious version of the
idea of divine providence. It is often
used to justify pursuing self-interest because of the unintended good
social and economic side effects
that can result.
But instead of accepting that
our selfish pursuits will lead to the
common good, we need to cultivate the biblical understanding of
Providence is not simply a matter
of God mysteriously taking care of
things, but rather God inviting us
and moving in us to participate in
His care for all of His creation.
Theologian Scott Bader-Saye
notes that as we redefine the idea of
providence as the invisible hand, it
becomes all too easy “not to engage
in practices of generosity, not to
follow the self-giving path of the
cross, not to put the needs of others
before one’s own.” It actually dimin-ishes “a courageous and patient life
of Christian discipleship” (Scott
Bader-Saye, Following Jesus in a Culture of Fear, Brazos Press, 2007).
This is certainly not the end to the
list of gods in business, but it gives
us a sense of what to be vigilant
about. Business can be done in such
a way as to serve and bring glory to
the living God. But it means being
heedful about who truly is Lord. /FT
Instead of accepting that our selfish
pursuits will lead to the common good,
we need to cultivate the biblical under-
standing of providence.
The false gods of business
When the marketplace seems omniscient, omnipotent and omnipresent
THE WORLD SAYS:
“YOU HAVE NEEDS –
SATISF Y THEM. DON’T
HESI TATE; INDEED,
NEEDS AND DEMAND
MORE.” THIS IS THE
WORLDLY DOC TRINE
OF TODAY. AND THE Y
BELIEVE THAT THIS
IS FREEDOM. THE
RESULT FOR THE
RICH IS ISOLATION
AND SUICIDE, FOR
THE POOR, ENV Y AND
– F YODOR