A Few Thoughts on the Economy of God

Given my background in economics, I was recently asked to compare and contrast the economy as economists understand it and God’s economy. Let me start by saying that I’m not a theologian, philosopher, or anything more than a layperson, so I’m completely out of my expertise on this topic. Still, out of respect to the requestor, I’m very happy to jot down several notes that come to mind.

  1. Economics is typically defined as something like the study of the allocation of resources under scarcity. This immediately exempts God from classic economic analysis, because God does not face scarcity.
  2. Still, there are some connections that can be made by stretching:
    1. God does have purpose and act. God should not be constrained to a rational actor model, but I do think his actions are gnerally rational. While he is not subject to classic economic analysis, then, he might be studied to some extent with tools used by some economists including decision theory, revealed preference theory, teleological analysis, and Austrian analysis.
    2. Given that God is perfect and also produces goods, an eccentric economist might try to reverse-engineer optimal production or other optimal agent activities through theological investigation.
    3. The etymological root of ‘economy’ is ‘oikonomos,’ which refers to household management or operation. The economy of God in this sense refers to how God operates and manages his things.
      1. God’s things would, to be clear, include everything.
      2. To be even clearer, that would include his management of the universe as well as his internal management of his internal parts, if you take it that God has any parts.
  3. “The economy of God” is a phrase used in 1 Timothy 1:4. Witness Lee, a preacher in the Local Church Movement, wrote what I consider to be one of the best books on this topic. This relates to the concept of God’s operation roughly fitting the above note from 2.3.
  4. The requestor emphasized that a better understanding of God’s economy might lead someone who is mourning or struggling with the problem of evil to see some resolution.
    1. I think the logical problem of evil is well-solved, but I notice that presentation of logical arguments is not only futile but often exacerbating in the eyes of a present mourner. I point out the great writing on this problem by William Lane Craig as one example.
    2. As to the emotional problem of evil, here are a few extrinsic actions that might help, but ultimately I think it is unlikely to be solved extrinsically. I think co-mourning can help with the emotional problem to some degree. Remembering that the righteous are in a better place after death can also ease morning, and remembering that seperation of the righteous is temporary.
    3. As to intrinsic solutions, I think one key is realizing that humans are not meant to completely understand the mind of God (Isaiah 55:8-9).
      1. The demand to understand God’s rationale is hubristic and without justification. In the Book of Job, God makes clear that he owes no explanation to mankind. Scripture indicates that no one can see the Father and live. Isn’t it easier to see a person’s face than it is to understand the person’s mind?
      2. It seems to me that choosing humility and trust in God’s plan, despite our lack of total understanding, is a fairly effective intrinisic solution to the emotional problem of evil.
      3. To be clear, an intrinisic activity is a voluntary choice or change made by the mourner. An extrinsic solution would be some action that a third party takes with respect to the mourner.
    4. A key term of interest related to coming up with stories that might answer why God allows evil is theodicy. Cameron Bertuzzi hosts Capturing Christianity, and has given several lengthy discussions to address the problem of evil, including this discussion with Justin Mooney.
  5. I do think we can know God in part, and I don’t think we can know God in full. As we can know his identity, so I think we similarly can grasp a small view of his motives, teleology, or rationale. In other cases where we can’t graps his motives, teleology, or rationale in a definite way, I think there is still some room for careful speculation as an attempt to satisfy the mourner who demands explanation.
    1. Be extremely careful here: If you speculate in a way that is careless you will overstate our knowledge of God, which can lead to holding false beliefs about God, and that is a quick way to blaspheme and idolotry. Let’s be extremely conservative and not put our own thoughts or words into God’s mouth.
    2. An example where I think some thoughtful speculation has been done is in the case of Sodom and Gomorrah.
      1. In Genesis 18 and 19, the theory is that there may have been some little children or preborn babies that were destroyed along with the cities. The mourner or critic points out that this appears to be a case of evil: Innocent children have been massacred by a bloodthirsty God, they say.
      2. The initial response is that God knows these are innocents and will deal fairly with them at judgement time. The second common addition is that the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah had benefits known to God that outweigh the costs, even if this calculus is not viewable by the common person.
      3. A more thoughtful speculation in this case adds that the particular benefits would include prevention of abuse and salvation for these young ones. They might otherwise grow up in an evil culture, suffer abuse during their lives, and acculturate into evil adults themselves, finally ending up on a course for hell.
    3. To reiterate, I do not think the Christian owes these speculations to the critic and the mourner, and a faulty speculation will do far more harm than good, but in some cases they may be helpful if a decent speculation can be made within the boundaries of scripture and conscience.
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