Which Will You Choose?
By the sweat of your face you will eat bread. (Genesis 3:19)
In 1776 Adam Smith, a Scottish economist and Deist, a good friend of David Hume the sceptic, wrote his famous book Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations that has profoundly affected the capitalist system in our world. Smith taught that an ‘invisible hand of nature’ guides the law of supply and demand and that if left alone will continue the increase in the wealth of nations equitably for all people. Smith failed, however, to heed the words of Genesis 3 concerning the implications of the fall into sin namely that man is innately selfish and greedy, given to avarice. By the mid-nineteenth century that ‘peculiar institution’ was oppressing the slaves in the south, and the north complied (in Hartford, Connecticut, the insurance industry was built on insuring the transportation of slaves from northern ports to southern plantations1) while the sweat shops in the north were not much better. By the late nineteenth century the divide between rich and poor had grown so wide that Karl Marx wrote Das Kapital, his effort at arresting the inequities in economics, calling for the proletariat to rise up and force redistribution of wealth. Marx, unfortunately, failed to heed Genesis 3 either, forgetting that the proletariat was just as greedy as the bourgeois people who ruled them. In 1930, one year after the Great Depression began, John Maynard Keynes wrote The General Theory of Employment, Interest, and Money. He too was concerned about the economic oppression of the poor and he believed that when an economy stalled, it was the government’s responsibility to infuse money into the system and thus put people back to work. Increasingly since that time the western world, including our country, has looked to the government to right the wrongs in our economy hence the stimulus package and recent bailouts. Keynes, however, failed to understand that the government is no better than anyone else, that it too is corrupt, selfish, greedy, and given to avarice.2
In Genesis 3:17-20 we read of God’s sanction upon the man for his fall into sin. He tells Adam that his role as God’s vice-gerent (one who rules in the place of another) to subdue the earth and to be fruitful and multiply has been compromised (verse 17b). He also says that his work will always be difficult and relentles (verses 18-19a). Apparently before the fall, growing crops and picking fruit was a piece of cake. And God also told Adam that his life would be fleeting (verse 19). He came from the dust and to the dust he would return. If he had not sinned, then he would have lived forever, but his sin brought death upon the whole world (Gen. 2:15-17, Rom. 5:12-14). Almost none of you reading this actually earn your living by the sweat of your brow, seeking to overcome thorns and thistles in farming. We have very few farmers today. But you do live in a world of money and business, of capitalism, and our economic system has been severely and negatively affected by the fall and the sanctions upon Adam. Everyone you deal with in business and every consumer is driven by an insatiable desire to have more. Our whole economic system is built on it. Both Smith and Keynes taught that consumer spending is what drives an economy and continues the relentless increase of wealth. That’s why President Bush, just after 9/11, told us to go shopping. The ‘invisible hand of nature’ does not take into account the greed of Wall Street or the selfishness of Congressmen who say and do whatever it takes to get elected to make sure they get that nice salary and pension they vote to give themselves.
So your work is exceedingly difficult and demanding. Why did God bring this sanction upon Adam and his posterity? He wants us to know that our hope is in the name of the Lord who made heaven and earth. He wants us to find our hope in him, not in money or work. In other words, borrowing from Solomon “all your work under the sun is vanity and striving after wind.” It is to serve as a reminder that you must choose will you live under the sun or under heaven? After your decision to follow Jesus (something of course you chose only because God by his grace first worked in you, giving you this desire) there is no more important decision than this. To choose to live under the sun will bring misery, anxiety, anger, and disillusionment; while choosing to live under heaven will produce peace, enjoyment, and contentment. Okay, what does it mean to live under the sun? Solomon repeatedly uses this term in Ecclesiastes (1:3, 2:18, and 4:1 are just a few examples) and it means living as de facto atheists, as though God does not exist. To live under the sun, at best, means you are a Deist saying that God exists but he is not at all involved in the everyday affairs of anyone. It is living like those in the days of Noah (Matt. 24:37) who were marrying and giving in marriage but then the end came. It is living normally in this world without considering the sobering reality that all will stand before God and give account of their lives. It is living in a temporal, material fashion, as though ‘things’ are all that matter. Living under the sun brings a temporal, unsatisfying work “what advantage does man have in all his work he does under the sun?” It brings temporal, unsatisfying wealth “I came to hate the fruit of my labour because I knew I would leave it to others who did not earn it.” And it leads to a miserable, unsatisfying cynicism “I saw the tears of the oppressed and there was no one to comfort them.”
If you are living “under the sun” then it is all about your money, comfort, prestige, power, and stock portfolio; and these will disappoint you, sooner or later. I remember having breakfast with a man in the spring of 2000, when the Dow Jones was 13,000, riding the wave of the “dot com” phenomenon. I was seeking to speak to him about his soul, but all he wanted to talk about was how much money he was making in the stock market. He told me that bear markets were a thing of the past, that this was a new day. He was the Proverbial fool. I wonder how he feels today.
You can also choose to live under heaven to live with heaven in full view, to believe Jesus when he says that your life does not consist of your possessions, to believe Paul who says that your citizenship is in heaven (Eccl. 1:13, 2:3, 3:1). If you live under heaven you must still live in this world. You will still battle the greed and avarice in the world and in your own heart. But you will also seek Godly wisdom “I set my mind to pursue wisdom.” You will reject earthly wisdom, that which is “under the sun” “I have come to see that wisdom exceeds folly as light exceeds darkness.” And you will rest in God’s timing “there is a time for everything under heaven, a time to be born, and a time to die, a time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing.”
Sir John Templeton was a remarkable investor but an even more remarkable Christian. When he sold his investment firm to his closest competitor he came away with $900 million. He brought untold wealth to his clients. His Foundation now gives all his money away to numerous Christian causes. Sir John lived ‘under heaven.’ Bernie Madoff, on the other hand, chose to live ‘under the sun’, bringing ruin to thousands, costing himself his name, family, and freedom.
You must choose between living under the sun or under heaven, but this is not a once and for all decision. You will need to make this decision every day because of the innate greed and pride in your own heart. When you catch yourself falling ‘under the sun’ then repent, push the reset button, and come running back to Jesus, the lover of your soul, the One who redeemed you by his blood, the One who makes you a co-heir of untold spiritual wealth for all eternity.
You pursue living under heaven by cultivating a growing love relationship with Jesus, and you continue that by growing in your love for your spouse and your children. Invest in both. What you value is what you will pass on to them. If you value things under the sun, they most likely will too. But if you seek first the kingdom of God by leading and instructing your children in the Scriptures, modelling holy, sacrificial living for them, they likely will pursue the same.
- Complicity: How the North Promoted, Prolonged, and Profited from Slavery, by Anne Farrow, Joel Lang, Jennifer Frank – Hartford Courant writers who discovered a plethora of data proving Connecticut and other northern states aided and abetted slavery.
- I am indebted to my friend Carl Wilson for much of this information, taken from his book Liberty in an Age of Evil: Winning the Spiritual Battle over Perversion by Intellectuals, pp.41-50.
Rev. Allen M Baker is Pastor of Christ Community Presbyterian Church in West Hartford, Connecticut.
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