Proverbs for the Treasury

The last few days have seen extraordinary turmoil in the worlds of politics and economics. Falling currency, stressed financiers, politicians either capitalising on the situation or hastily working out a PR strategy to manage the crisis and shift the blame. And of course, the consequences of decisions made at the top affect us all. Many households are now adding mortgage repayments to the list of things they need to budget carefully for, alongside energy bills and inflation.

As I was listening to the news, I remembered a proverb. And then as I reflected on it, more than one came to mind and I thought I would share them.

The book of proverbs isn’t about our complex global economy of course. But the general principles in its ancient wisdom rings true. The following are all from Proverbs chapter 22:

A good name is more desirable than great riches;
    to be esteemed is better than silver or gold.

Rich and poor have this in common:
    The Lord is the Maker of them all.

The prudent see danger and take refuge,
    but the simple keep going and pay the penalty.

In these opening three verses we see a challenge to wealth and what really matters. To use a modern phrase, what is economic growth worth? How much are we prepared to sacrifice for it? Because it seems to me that the pursuit of economic growth at all costs has cost Britain its reputation in recent days. Trust has been damaged. We are in disrepute.

One of the reasons for this fall from grace is the way that current government policy violates the principle contained in verse three of Proverbs 22: that rich and poor both matter equally to God. Capitalism values the richest most – literally so, because they have more spending power. The current tax cuts will gift more wealth to the richest, and many people feel this to be inherently wrong and unjust. They are correct.

Verse three adds another principle worth remembering in the halls of power: prudence. There is a time to be bold and a time to be cautious, to paraphrase another book of Biblical wisdom. It’s not a good idea to take a big gamble when budgets are already tight and times are uncertain. To ignore the dangers and press ahead with ideological zeal, well, the second clause of the proverb has a term for that.

Do not be one who shakes hands in pledge
    or puts up security for debts;
if you lack the means to pay,
    your very bed will be snatched from under you.

 One who oppresses the poor to increase his wealth
    and one who gives gifts to the rich—both come to poverty.

The generous will themselves be blessed,
    for they share their food with the poor.

Moving on a few verses, proverbs 22 has a word of advice on debt. Don’t take on debts without a plan to repay them. If Solomon knew this in 700BC, there’s not much excuse in 2022. It’s not that debt itself is wrong. There are good reasons to borrow. The failure is to jump in without thinking through what it will cost, to commit without due diligence. That’s what ends in repossessions.

Unfunded tax cuts for the richest is a good example of ‘gifts to the rich’, in my opinion, and the book of proverbs takes a dim view. But look at the next verse, which puts the emphasis on generosity instead. What I like about this is the final line – sharing food with the poor. What is rewarded here is solidarity, truly seeing each other, and reducing the distance between rich and poor.

Drive out the mocker, and out goes strife;
    quarrels and insults are ended.

One who loves a pure heart and who speaks with grace
    will have the king for a friend.

Finally, a couple of proverbs for the rest of us. How we talk about all of this matters. It is easy to pour scorn from the sidelines – also known as Twitter. Or we might piously stand to the side, holding our faith as a private matter. I think justice demands more of us than that. We should seek to be ‘friends of the king’, looking for opportunities to influence the decisions that affect us all. The relevant question is not whether the church should speak into politics and economics, but how we do it and what we bring to the table.

How do we, as Christians, speak with grace in a combative culture? How do we build bridges and seek common understanding? How to we help to move the debate beyond insult and argument, and build common ground, unity and shared purpose?

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