I recently shared a lengthy excerpt from Faithful in All God’s House, highlighting the investment-return motif that appears throughout the Bible. “All of God’s gifts to mankind are as a divine investment on which the investor expects full return,” write Berghoef and DeKoster.
Several readers pushed back on the analogy, interpreting it to mean that God rolls out his divine plan according to earthbound assumptions, as if “prudent investment” means being beholden to the outputs of a narrow, materialistic cost-benefit analysis.
It’s troubling on many levels that “prudent investment” has come to reckon imaginations of something so imprudent for so many. We humans, the “agents of return,” are called to live within a framework much more varied, complex, and mysterious than the confines of a Wall Street banker, despite those times when such considerations have their place. We serve a God of love, and just as that love is deep and distinct from distorted human variations, we are called to live and think and act according to an economy not of our own constructing.
Berghoef and DeKoster affirm this accordingly, moving from the image of prudent investor to the realm of application. Drawing our attention to the Great Commission, in which we are “mandated by the Christ to build his church,” they aptly demonstrate what the beginning of such a return might look like: sacrifice and obedience to God. Such a transcendent starting point is bound to impact our stewardship of resources, but what follows is not likely to conform to the bullet-points of a Suze Orman self-help seminar.
How, then, are we to deliver a return in this area? How are we to grab hold of the gifts God has given us and steward them in such a way that gives glory to His name? Put simply, how are we to be obedient in our daily work and in our managing of the fruits of our labor?
For Berghoef and DeKoster, the Word plays a strong role, as does the fellowship of believers. Yet tying these together, they argue, is the Christian conscience, a “watchful monitor” of stewardship that “brings law and conduct together, and judges behavior by the Law.” As “God’s witness in each human heart,” conscience makes demands on our behavior specific to the situations we encounter:
Conscience plays a unique role in the obedient life.
It is often said that the Bible falls short of particulars in laying down regulations for Christian obedience. We are never expressly told, for example, how much we may keep for ourselves of all the goods that God gives us. We are not informed as to whether money should be given to one charity or to another, or whether it is right to enjoy good food and drink while many starve. The Bible declines to be an ethical recipe book. The Word only reveals general mandates and universal commandments.
Why? Because God provides conscience to be the bridge from the general and universal law to the particular act. Conscience is, so to speak, the elbow where the vertical command coming down from God governs the horizontal deed done among men.
The Bible is geared to conscience. The Word is addressed to conscience, and should be preached to conscience. Out of the struggle to do the revealed will of God in daily living, conscience emerges ever more sensitive and helpful. Conscience is the agent of Christian maturity.
How one defines the “conscience” will, of course, vary, even within Christian circles. I myself see the reality described above to be more closely related to the active presence and witness of the Holy Spirit, constantly speaking, guiding, empowering, and convicting. But though we can wind and weave and disagree on how precisely this process of communion, discernment, and prudential judgement takes place, a reality it remains.
The authors warn that “estranged from the church, and indifferent to the Bible, conscience may indeed become more and more wayward and less and less reliable.” But when all of this is in the proper place and perspective, we find ourselves with a powerful tool for Christian obedience.
“Conscience is there,” Berghoef and DeKoster write, “We need not, and could not, create it. How exciting a challenge to enlist its voice in our efforts to serve the Christ through obedience to the divine Law in the form of good stewardship.”