Carsten Hennings is chair of the department
of business administration at Tyndale
University College in Toronto. Find more of these
columns at www.faithtoday.ca/BusinessMatters.
Any introductory business textbook has a chapter on economics, usually defin- ing it as dealing with the
allocation of scarce resources.
And yet when we turn to the
Bible, a different picture emerges.
In the opening act God creates a
world not of scarcity, but of abundance. The creation story tells us of
a world filled with plants and trees,
and creatures in the waters, on land
and in the sky. Added to this multitude of plants and animals are human beings, called to be fruitful
and enjoy the bounty of the earth.
Business textbooks usually depict scarcity as a normal condition
of organizational and economic
life. They explain how different
societies and economic systems,
such as capitalism and socialism,
have attempted to deal with this
problem of scarcity – and how
these different attempts shape
economic and business life.
Those of us who work in organizations are familiar with limited
financial resources, human resources and even a limited pool of customers to be fought over with our
There is also another state of
abundance described at the very end
of the Bible – the new heaven and
earth and the New Jerusalem. The
description of the New Jerusalem is
filled with spectacular abundance
– precious stones, pure light, crystal
water and roads paved with gold.
God’s intent for the world, both in
its creation and its end, is clearly not
one of scarcity but of abundance, of
meeting the needs of all creatures, of
abundant life and creativity and joy.
Of course, we live in the time
between these two worlds, the time
after the Fall which put an end to
the idyllic creation and before the
The world we live in is a much
harder place – a place of droughts,
floods, poverty and hunger. And of
very real limits and very real scarcity.
But the Bible reminds us that
these limits, this scarcity, is not
how God made the world, nor how
He will remake it.
Living in this in-between time,
Christians are called both to live in
awareness of the abundance which
God created and will bring about,
and to be realistic about the broken
world of scarcity and limits in
which we find ourselves.
What does all this mean for organizational life?
Avoid creating scarcity. While
some scarcity might be beyond our
control, organizations can often
create scarcity through their own
decisions and behaviour.
We might simply waste resources.
We might underuse and mismanage
people. Employees doing marginal
work, or work they are not well
suited for, or whose insights are not
sought are examples of waste. We
might waste organizational energies
on fruitless competition with other
organizations. These are avoidable
sources of scarcity and represent a
misuse of the very real abundance
the organization has been given.
So, a question to ask is: What
does our organization have in good
measure or even abundance, and
how can we avoid mismanaging it?
Build and restore abundance.
Where there is scarcity, there is also
opportunity to build toward and
restore the fruitfulness God intends
for human beings and the world.
Inside an organization this might
mean looking at investments that
build long-term fruitfulness –
whether that is in the right assets or
a workplace culture that honours
people and spurs their engagement
This might require a significant
change in how we understand and
measure success. Unilever’s CEO
Paul Polman famously did away
with the quarterly reporting of profits so the company could focus on
building the business for the long
term rather than chasing short-term
Outside an organization this
might mean investment in social
and natural capital, including partnerships with many stakeholders to
repair and build these up.
So, a question to ask is: What
opportunities do we have to invest
toward abundant fruitfulness both
inside and outside the organization?
Remain hopeful. The reality of
scarcity in this in-between time is
a powerful one, and so not all our
organizational efforts to avoid creating scarcity and build abundance
are likely to succeed.
It can be tempting in the face of a
failed attempt to restore and repair
abundance to give up on what might
seem an overly naïve approach to a
What the biblical story reminds
us is not to despair in the apparent
victories of scarcity. It reminds us
that fruitful abundance – and not
scarcity – is the ultimate lasting
reality, and that those working for
fruitfulness will always be on the
right side of history. /FT
Between scarcity and abundance
Resource stewardship in a broken world
CEO OF UNILEVER,
DID AWAY WI TH
QUAR TERLY PROFI T
REPOR TS TO FOCUS
ON THE LONG TERM
and measure success.