Is the current financial storm a cold fall rain that will soon pass by or a 100-year flood that will inundate a decade?
God knows but we do not. Last week, as the stock market kept falling and falling, some whispered that He is about to give us another Great Depression as judgment for obvious sins such as abortion and greed, as well as the subtler ones that infect even the meek among us.
One clear biblical teaching is that if God were to give us what we deserve for our sins, we would be Depressed, and worse: Jonathan Edwards spoke of spiders held over the fire. But Edwards also preached about God's mercy. As Christ taught, we should pray for our daily bread and not presume to know whether tomorrow will bring consternation or comeback.
The market mood has often been one of hysteria, but we might ask ourselves WWHW: What would Horatio write? After Horatio Spafford lost his only son to death in 1871 and his four daughters to death by shipwreck in 1873, he penned these words that many of us sing: "When peace like a river, attendeth my way, When sorrows like sea billows roll; Whatever my lot, Thou hast taught me to say, It is well, it is well, with my soul."
Losing savings is hard, but losing children . . .
Since God comforted Spafford after his terrible loss, how much more so should we refrain from panic after monetary losses? That's what Christians should tell each other, but we also need to be bilingual-communicating among ourselves and also with those resistant (for now) to spiritual comfort-so what can we say about policy matters?
First, we're learning again that bad compassion drives out good. Barney Frank, D-Mass., and his congressional colleagues wanted to show compassion by pushing Fannie Mae and others to help poor people get into houses they could not afford. Maybe they thought this effort could succeed because efforts by ministry groups in Charlotte and other cities had helped many. But big, bureaucratic governmental programs cannot match the success of local church-based programs that examine character and emphasize true compassion- suffering with those in need. The government programs misuse funds that could otherwise be helpful.
Second, Congress may be forgetting the past but Fed chairman Ben Bernanke is not, nor should we. Bernanke's scholarly research on the reasons for the Great Depression led him in 2002, on Milton Friedman's 90th birthday, to agree with the great economist that government policy made things worse in 1929 and thereafter: "You're right, we did it. We're very sorry. But thanks to you, we won't do it again." Are we condemned to repeat past mistakes? Or will Bernanke be able to boast, as I sometimes do, "I'm not making the same mistakes. I'm making new mistakes"?
Third, fear may rule markets for a season, and greed among both rich and poor (see Joel Belz's "Umble pie") has consequences, but economic fundamentals eventually come into play. The geopolitical organization Stratfor concluded last week that the U.S. economy-even the banking industry-is healthier than the European and Japanese economies and their banks. That may not help us if we're in an international economic Black Death-"ashes, ashes, all fall down" was originally a 14th-century children's chant amid dead bodies-but it cautions us not to blame America first.
Last but most important, we should all keep calm and carry on. Those who follow God might memorize Psalm 131: "My heart is not proud, O Lord, my eyes are not haughty; I do not concern myself with great matters or things too wonderful for me. But I have stilled and quieted my soul; like a weaned child with its mother, like a weaned child is my soul within me. O Israel, put your hope in the Lord both now and forevermore."