Acton Institute Powerblog

Toward an economics of abundance: How the cross triumphs over scarcity

For many, economics is ultimately about solving the problem of scarcity—determining how to best use and distribute limited resources. Yet, as some economists are beginning to understand, human creativity and innovation are increasingly allowing us to triumph over such scarcity.

As Christians, it’s a tension that’s all too familiar, from creation (abundance) to the fall (scarcity) to the resurrection (abundance) to the here and now (+ not yet). It’s complicated.

In a new short film from The Bible Project, we get a clearer picture of that broader biblical story, allowing us to better understand our current calling as creative image-bearers and generous contributors in a world of seeming constraints.

“Creation is an expression of God’s generous love,” the narrators explain. “He is the host and humans are his guests in a world of opportunity and abundance. And we’re called to keep the party going—to spread his goodness. This is a beautiful picture. But it’s not the way people experience in the world. Rather, we find a world of scarcity and struggle—not abundance.”

In the garden, Adam and Eve were intimately familiar with God’s abundance, collaborating with their Creator in a world that was all at once tangible and transcendent. Even still, they failed to trust the giver of the gift, looking instead to their own designs and fears about the future.

It wasn’t that they actually saw lack in the world around them. They simply lost sight of the true source of all that was good and true. “Our scarcity problem isn’t caused by a lack of resources,” the narrators explain. “Rather, the problem is our mindset that God can’t be trusted. ‘Maybe God is holding out on me. Maybe there isn’t enough and maybe I need to take matters into my own hands.’”

In doubting the overflow of God’s abundance, we necessarily put our trust in something else—ourselves—leading us to inevitably walk in the ways of self-focus and self-protection. “Once we’re deceived into that mindset of scarcity,” they continue, “we can justify the impulse to take care of me and mine before anyone else, and that leads to envy and anger, violence, and a world where it seems like there’s not enough. The party is over; it’s turned into a battleground.”

But while we may have been content to confine ourselves to the battlefield, God didn’t give up so easily. He sought to restore all that was broken, responding not from the context of fear and scarcity, but of extravagant abundance. He didn’t set out to simply give us a “piece of the pie” and see how we manage. He gave his very own son.

Jesus defeated the lie that “there isn’t enough.” Wherever he went, scarcity was subverted and love was multiplied. Born into a broken world, he bore witness to how a life might be lived as if the original party never stopped—always giving, always restoring, always loving. Whatever the material constraints and corresponding anxieties, he reminded us to “consider the lilies” and “seek first the kingdom.”

“Jesus lives with the conviction that there is enough, and that our generous host can be trusted,” the narrators explain. “His mindset of abundance allowed him to live sacrificially and generously, even towards his enemies. And Jesus called his followers to trust in God’s abundance, like Him…He’s inviting us to live by a different story, one that is built on trust in God’s goodness and love.”

Through his death and resurrection, Jesus revealed the upside-down economics of God’s abundance, in all of its confounding beauty and mystery: “God’s love can turn death into life, and scarcity back into abundance,” redeeming our spirits, reorienting our imaginations, and transforming the work of our hands and the fruits of our labor.

“When you believe there’s enough, you start to see opportunities for generosity everywhere—with our time and money, our attention,” the narrators conclude. “One of the most important ways that we can experience the abundance of God’s new creation is sharing with others because of our trust that God is the generous host.”

Such generosity needn’t be limited to “acts of charity,” of course. When we observe growth trends across the global economy, we see that such abundance is not the result of greed or narrow self-preservation, but rather, of sharing—trading and exchanging and collaborating in an intricate web of creative human fellowship. “Work plants the seed; civilization reaps the harvest,” writes Lester DeKoster. “We plant; God gives the increase to unify the human race.”

Much of this “sharing” is happening regardless of a conscious “trust that God is the generous host,” of course. Thus, how much more abundance might manifest if we were to simply deepen and widen our perspectives. How might we bear better witness to the source of such blessings, illuminating what’s available from the giver who gave us our giving natures in the first place?

We are still bound to encounter and experience that age-old tension—living in the redemptive reality of the cross even as we navigate and seek to restore imperfect systems and broken relationships in a fallen world. But as we go about that task—creating, trading, serving, and sharing—we ought not over-elevate the earthly constraints that we face. All is gift.

Whether in our families, neighborhoods, schools, workplaces, or elsewhere, we have the opportunity to mirror and embody the extravagance of the God who created, gave, and taught us there is always enough.

Joseph Sunde

is an associate editor and writer for the Acton Institute. His work has appeared in venues such as The Federalist, First Things, The Christian Post, The Stream, Intellectual Takeout, Foundation for Economic Education, Patheos, LifeSiteNews, The City, Charisma News, The Green Room, Juicy Ecumenism, Ethika Politika, Made to Flourish, and the Center for Faith and Work. Joseph resides in Minneapolis, Minnesota with his wife and four children.