Capitalism under God

I love the fact that London’s Royal Exchange sits under these words:
“The earth is the Lord’s and the fulness thereof.”

IMG_20160218_131824At the heart of the City, a magnificent building; now a retail emporium, but originally the key trading point for merchants, and then the home of the London insurance market.

And all the wheeling and dealing took place (and, indeed, still takes place) beneath a simple motto from Psalm 24:1.

The earth is the Lord’s and the fulness thereof.  Everything in it. All this stuff that it has produced; all this stuff that we have produced from it. It’s all the Lord’s. We are merely stewards of his provision, and life will be all the better, both now and in eternity, if we don’t forget it.

It has been remarked* that there are two types of socialist in the UK. Socialists may be ethical people who sincerely believe that socialism is best for society. Or they may be selfish people, who just want other people to pick up the bill for their own folly.

And likewise there are two types of capitalist. There are selfish capitalists – brutal people who are morally decadent and care little for others. And then there are ethical capitalists, who are not motivated by their own greed, but sincerely believe capitalism is the economic precondition of a healthy society.

Psalm 24:1 is the only sure foundation for ethical capitalism, because it recognises that we are all merely recipients and stewards. Recipients from God, and stewards on his behalf. On the verge of the Promised Land, Moses warned the Israelites,

“Remember the Lord your God, for it is he who gives you the ability to produce wealth, and so confirms his covenant.” (Deuteronomy 8:18)

Otherwise we should heed the warning from another Psalm, number 49:

Do not be overawed when a man grows rich, when the splendour of his house increases;
for he will take nothing with him when he dies, and his splendour will not descend with him.

Though while he lived he counted himself blessed – and people praise you when you prosper – he will join the generation of his fathers who will never see the light of life.

A man who has riches without understanding is like the beasts that perish.

Why so serious? Well, “the fulness thereof” in Psalm 24 includes me and you. The verse goes on, “…the world and all its peoples.” We will all give an account to him one day.

And “who may ascend the hill of the Lord? Who may stand in his holy place? He who has clean hands and a pure heart, who does not lift up his soul to an idol, or swear by what is false.”

Socialist or capitalist, and whether our chief idol is money or something different, none of us has “clean hands and a pure heart”. So praise God for Jesus, who died in our place, for the forgiveness of all who trust in him.

And praise God for the Royal Exchange and Psalm 24! May we live by that principle.

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*see David Holloway, “Church and State in the New Millennium” (HarperCollins, 2000) page ix, referring to the work of sociologist Norman Dennis.

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