I’ve long admired what I call the “counterintuitivity” of the gospel. (My spellcheck doesn’t recognize this word so it is possible I’m making it up!) Nonetheless, it is the word that best sums up for me the reality that the wisdom of the Bible often surprises us because it runs counter to the seemingly obvious and intuitive wisdom of the world. For example: what the world considers strength, believers might consider a weakness. What the world considers worth grasping, believers might consider abandoning.
I’m always on the lookout for new counterintuitivities. That is why I found myself just a few weeks ago processing the subtle idea that there is no such thing as the present moment. While the world encourages me to seize today, the wisdom of the Bible tells me to set my sights on tomorrow.
This week, I’ve been reconsidering the counterintuitivity of abundance, a thought I’ve been mulling over ever since I read a lovely and poetic little book called Slow Church a few months ago.** The book acknowledges that we tend to believe the idea that we are quickly and steadily running out of the limited resources available to us on this planet, and we have created an economy that believes in constant and unending expansion, as if we must all spend more and make more this year than we did last year or we are at risk of an economic apocalypse. It is this theory of scarcity and appetite for expansion that drives our competitive free market economy and keeps us all on edge as we attempt to simultaneously buy more stuff and save all our money and insure all our belongings.
In contrast to all of these ideas I present to you (borrowing from C. Christopher Smith and John Pattison) the humble tomato:
Slice open the common tomato and you will find enough seeds to plant tomatoes that will feed you and your whole neighborhood all summer (and all year if you can them!) Inside of just ONE tomato! Slice open an apple and find a half dozen seeds. Simply combine these seeds with the materials natures supplies in abundance–soil, sun, and water–and you’ve got a dozen TREES full of apples.
Or look above your head and consider the water cycle, which ensures that each drop of water is collected and poured out from the sky over and over and over again.
The simplest essences of what we need–food and water–have always had ways of regenerating themselves. You can explain it to me all you want, but it still seems like magic.
Smith and Pattison argue in their book that those who read the stories of the Bible (and observe the realities of nature) must come to the conclusion that “God loves creation and has provided and will provide the sustenance that we need” (157). Yet there is an ever-present tension for believers as we attempt to co-exist in an economy full of scarce resources and a kingdom where there is always enough.
This is a counterintuitivity, and you’ll never believe this idea of abundance if you’re studying the wisdom of this world. But when you read the stories of scripture, you’ll find many examples of abundance: the manna in the wilderness and water from the rock. The oil and flour that never run out. The thousands fed by five loaves and three fish with 12 baskets left over. The tiny mustard seed that grows into a tree. The lilies of the valley clothed in more splendor than Solomon.
I’m more of a poetic type, so it is easier for me to believe this than, say, an economist who puts all their hope in the black and white columns of numbers. I get that, I really do. And I do not mean to dismiss the reality that we need to conserve and steward well those resources that have been given to us, but I do want to challenge the assumption that there is a scarcity of all things so we’ve all got to acquire and keep all that we can get our hands on. This kind of mindset creates the competitive market economy we live in and perpetuates the kind of self-prioritizing lifestyle that is so tempting for us as Americans.
And It’s not that people who believe in the narrative of scarcity can’t or won’t give (and give generously!) out of their abundance to worthy causes. It’s just that I don’t think we’d ever be willing to give the more generous gift and offer our last mites, a gift Jesus commends to his disciples in Mark 12:41-44.
As an American and a Christian, I realize I often have to choose which narrative to believe: the narrative of scarcity or the narrative of abundance.
I have decided to believe in the narrative of abundance. It’s why I had the courage to quit my job. It’s why I consider it a privilege to invest in the work of the Lord all over the world. It’s why I wake up every morning and ask the Lord for our daily bread and go to bed thanking him for that same bread. It’s why I ask God to do the impossible–to do as much as I can imagine and then some. I can tell stories that testify that God can do “immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine.”
And it’s why I choose to stake my future on the promises of Psalm 37 (just read it!), especially verse 25 which reminds me “I have never seen the righteous forsaken or their children begging bread.” Or to use more contemporary language: Don’t believe me? Just watch…
**The seeds for nearly all of my ideas on this topic comes from a chapter in Slow Church called “Abundance: The Economy of Creation.” I write this mainly to summarize and process what I learned from this book, and to give anyone who reads this post the comfort that I received from recognizing in what kind of economy we believers live and move and have our being.