In my last post, I wrote about the first of the three foundational truths which lead us to understand the morality of capitalism, and that was creation. The second truth is stewardship. Men and women are not just called to create, we are called to manage, in a godly way, what has already been created. God appointed us as his vice-regents or as his representatives on earth. While he has allowed us to utilise the resources he has given us, he has also called us to steward all of creation in a way that glorifies him.
“Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it, and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth.” And God said, “Behold, I have given you every plant yielding seed that is on the face of all the earth, and every tree with seed in its fruit. You shall have them for food. And to every beast of the earth and to every bird of the heavens and to everything that creeps on the earth, everything that has the breath of life, I have given every green plant for food.” And it was so. (Genesis 1:27-28a)
God owns all of creation, but men and women are entrusted with the management of these resources through control or implied “ownership” of them. Capitalists and investors are called to manage the resources put under their control with a view of maximising their value.
In the parable of the Ten Minas (Luke 19:12-26), the nobleman gave each of his servants ten minas, which they were to increase by doing business. When he returned, the nobleman rewarded the servants according to how much they were able to grow the initial capital. Although this may speak primarily to spiritual matters, the fact that Jesus used an economic example like this is significant. Profits can be an indication that we have been faithful to steward God’s resources more efficiently than others.
We may have a long-term claim on the earth and all that is in it, but it is necessary to recognise that true ownership still lies with God. We do not have a right to abuse our “ownership” by recklessly exploiting the natural resources with which God has endowed the planet. Conflict comes when entrepreneurs, capitalists, investors, and other business people see a responsibility to steward the resources under their care without regard to other resources. God is owner of all things and as his representatives, we have the responsibility to ensure that our stewardship does not impinge on those resources under the stewardship of others.
The role of stewards gives us an opportunity to imitate God. Once again referring to Business for the Glory of God by Wayne Grudem, he posits:
. . . ownership of possessions is a fundamental way that we imitate God’s sovereignty over the universe by our exercising “sovereignty” over a tiny portion of the universe, the things we own. When we take care of our possessions, we imitate God in his taking care of the whole universe, and he delights to see us imitate him in this way. In addition, when we care for our possessions, it gives us opportunity to imitate many other attributes of God, such as wisdom, knowledge, beauty, creativity, love for others, kindness, fairness, independence, freedom, exercise of will, blessedness (or joy), and so forth.
These represent God-given desires to exercise dominion over the earth and exercise faithful stewardship so that we and others may enjoy the resources of the earth that God made for our use and for our enjoyment. We glorify God by doing this in a responsible manner, which takes into consideration the effects our actions have on all of creation.
How can we effectively manage the resources under our control without negatively impacting other resources? Does the financial system discourage this attitude?