Financial apocalypse?

 
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With the numerous and growing strains in the global economy, there are many and varied voices predicting the future. Professionals, pundits and personalities all share their opinions about what is to come in the days ahead, and what to do, if anything. Some would say that this is just the normal cycle in the financial world, a mere bump in the road. Others would point to this omen or that indicator that suggests deeper problems leading to crisis or even an unravelling of the global systems of business upon which we rely.

The subject of the “end of the world” captivates the attention of people, whether it be via apocalyptic movies set in a dystopian world, stories of cataclysmic changes in the global order as resources become scarce or even nightmarish tales of an earth overrun by zombies. It may be that these topics capture the attention of those who perceive problems in the current state of affairs for which they see no hope of resolution.

The Bible certainly points to an “apocalypse” (even though this is a gross misuse of that word) that portends the end of the world as we know it. But, does the Bible provide any insights into financial conditions at the end of world? While the Bible predicts calamities and even plagues, does it say anything specific about the economics of the “end times?”

Laodicea

When we read the book of Revelation, it reveals (the literal meaning of “apocalypse”) a glimpse of the end times through a variety of prophecies. The writer, the apostle John, one of those closest to Jesus, encourages us to read and understand this book. It starts with a message to seven churches—which were both literal churches in his day and allegorical—describing events that affect the followers of Christ in the future. The last of these churches was in Laodicea, in present-day western Turkey. John describes it as a church that is “rich, and increased with goods” and thinks it has “need of nothing” (Revelation 3:17, KJV). While it still professes to be a Christian church its actions make it look indistinguishable from the rest of the culture around it. Another Bible writer describes the church in the latter days as “Lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God” (2 Timothy 3:4).

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From these sections of the Bible, one might understand that there is great wealth in the church and in society in general in this last days period, as the “believers” mimic the lifestyles of those around them. The Bible says that they have a “form of godliness” (2 Timothy 3:5) but lack the true character of Christ, the selfless, loving Servant. Many outside the church would likely concur with this description of many Christians today. In fact, some might go as far to say that Christians cause more harm than good in this world—that Christians inflict their beliefs on others, or try to force others to follow their worldview, whether they believe it or not.

So the condition of the church as it nears the end of earth’s history is one of affluence—and the economic state of the world is equally so. It should not escape our attention that we are living in the most prosperous age in the history of this earth. Even those of modest means can afford many of the luxuries available today, from technology, entertainment, food, clothing and housing. Perhaps we are living in the era of Laodicea, the final age in the history of the world. But then, the question is, will this last or will there be a financial “apocalypse” as we approach the end?

Rebuke and chasten

The message to Laodicea in Revelation 3:14–22 goes on to say that they are “wretched, pitiful, poor, blind, and naked”, in spite of their apparent wealth (verse 17). But they are so caught up in trying to maintain their financial status quo that they fail to see their true condition. This is particularly a pointed rebuke against Christians for their failure to live in a manner that Christ promoted—an unselfish, generous and simple life. The prophecy suggests that God will have to rebuke and discipline His people. This rebuke is particularly necessary and severe, since the church at the end of the ages has a specific task given to it, which is to share the message of hope and salvation to a lost world.

So, what does it look like when God rebukes and chastens His people for failing to live up to their purpose? While God has rebuked His people often, there is one specific method that was used time and again to get their attention: famine. God often called for a famine on the land, and to an agrarian society a famine effectively is an economic crisis. This has been God’s modus operandi for millennia. One very particular example can be found in the book of Haggai, in the story of the restoration of the city of Jerusalem and the temple of the Jews.

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A purse with holes

The nation of Israel had become captive to Babylon around the 6th century BC, but after 70 years of exile, they were allowed to return to their homeland to rebuild the city of Jerusalem and the temple that was at the centre of their religion and culture. A group of Israelites were called out from Babylon to return home to rebuild their temple. While the work began immediately, it was difficult. Not only because of the physical labour, but because of the opposition of those who had settled in the area, the Samaritans.

After a struggle the Jews abandoned the work of temple restoration and returned to their own homes to rebuild their estates. But God was displeased with this—He wanted the temple to be rebuilt as a priority; it would be a central point for the work of the Messiah to come. So how did God get the attention of the people and encourage them to return to the work of rebuilding? The story is told in the book of Haggai: “You have planted much, but harvested little. You eat, but never have enough. You drink, but never have your fill. You put on clothes, but are not warm. You earn wages, only to put them in a purse with holes in it” (Haggai 1:6).

God goes on to say, “You expected much, but see, it turned out to be little. What you brought home, I blew away. Why?. . . . Because of my house, which remains a ruin, while each of you is busy with your own house. Therefore, because of you the heavens have withheld their dew and the earth its crops. I called for a drought on the fields and the mountains, on the grain, the new wine, the olive oil, and everything else the ground produces, on people and livestock, and on all the labour of your hands” (verses 9–11). God sent an economic crisis upon His people to help them remember why they were called out of Babylon—to return to serving Him.

This story told by Haggai could reasonably resonate with people today—particularly those who call themselves followers of God; a people who have the important mission of preparing the world for the last days but have become too caught up in material things. So it may be that God is once again “sending” an economic crisis to wake up His people. Though honestly, the economic problems of today seem more self-inflicted than an “act of God”. We have lost our ability to control our spending and the mushrooming levels of debt threaten to throw the whole world into chaos.

But that’s a topic for another time . . .

 

Tim Aka has a background in business finance and manages the investment portfolio for the world headquarters of the Seventh-day Adventist Church in Silver Spring, Maryland, USA.