Financial Crisis: The Answer

No – I don’t have the solution to the euro zone crisis. That may well come as a shock to fans of this column, the multitudes who habitually turn to this site as soon as a new blog is posted, seeking for the usual wit, wisdom and enlightenment. On this occasion – sorry! Maybe a little wit, but certainly no wisdom or enlightenment.

Have you tried to follow the debates? Few discussions contain as many words and concepts that are incomprehensible to the average reader (except maybe quantum physics, whatever that is). Utterly baffling. But if you think of all the others who are baffled – world leaders included – it probably isn’t a cause for embarrassment. At least you don’t have to try to run Greece … or Italy … or Ireland … or Spain … or anywhere, in fact. Sighs of relief all round.

Of course it isn’t a joke, and the practical consequences for ordinary people could be very serious. Hard decisions will have to be made and painful consequences endured, although possibly not by those who make the hard decisions. The impact of austerity seems to be cushioned somewhat in the upper echelons of government. The incoming Prime Minister of Italy stayed in a four star hotel instead of a five star one – real sacrifice is clearly the order of the day.

Even to the semi-ignorant layman, however, it seems clear that a major factor in the crisis is debt – vast, overwhelming, virtually unpayable debt, ‘think of a number and add half a dozen zeros’ debt, the result of policies which, if you pursued them with your overdraft and credit card would be taken as signs of dangerous lunacy. But governments are different … or maybe Europe is finding out that they aren’t really. Sooner or later borrowing money that cannot possibly be repaid will catch up with the borrowers, and the hole they are in just gets deeper.

Somewhere in the midst of it all is surely the word ‘greed’ – the desire for more and more, whether you can afford it or not. It’s a symptom of the sinfulness of the human heart. It’s one form of worshiping the creature rather than the Creator, as Paul describes the manifestations of sin in Romans 1, and as one of the most misquoted texts has it, ‘the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil’ (I Timothy 6:10). The results are plainly evident all around us. As the previous verse vividly puts it, ‘People who want to get rich fall into temptation and a trap and into many foolish and harmful desires that plunge men into ruin and destruction’ (v9). Sometimes the ruin and destruction are national.

No – we are not suggesting that a few pithy Bible texts offer a simple solution to the current financial problems of Europe. Politicians, economists and various other experts will have to give their best efforts to devising workable solutions to the crisis. Simplistic nostrums will not work. Nevertheless there are biblical (and therefore) God-given principles of conduct that should inform financial behaviour, and not just on the personal level. The God who addresses us in the Bible is as concerned about nations as he is about individuals. You could open the writings of the prophets almost at random to see that.

Avoidance of greed and of covetousness (which made it into the Ten Commandments summarizing God’s requirements) need to be combined with hard work, thrift, concern for those in need, contentment with and confidence in God’s provision, and many other positive principles of Scripture. We know very well, of course, that only a work of the Spirit of God transforming the hearts of men and women by grace can enable anyone to live in this way, or even to want to live thus. Which is only to say that ultimately the only real hope for Europe is a powerful working of the Spirit at all levels of society which will deliver the nations from greet and materialism. A naïve idea to most of the movers and shakers (who are having a taste of being moved and shaken themselves), but the Maker’s instructions are always ignores at our deepest peril.