The $13 Trillion Secret
Well we certainly had ourselves an election last week. Most of the votes have been tallied and a bunch of fresh faces will get a shot at governing. I even voted for a couple of them, but no straight ticket voting for me. Now the really hard part begins…
But this batch of politicians best not forget that this election was more about dissatisfaction than ideology. “It’s the economy, stupid.”
And oh yeah, about that economy… I’ve been reading the book of Jeremiah lately. It seems we’ve cooked ourselves the same pot of stew as ancient Judah. (It’s more like Bugs Bunny taking a bath in Elmer Fudd’s stew pot! He’s ‘what’s for dinner’ and he doesn’t even know it!) In Jeremiah’s time the economy was bad, national morale was worse, and false prosperity prophets abounded. People wanted things fixed, but they didn’t want to fix themselves. Disconnected from God and each other, they came to completely rely on banking and treaties to secure their future. God warned them not to trust in chariots, horses, and bank fraud. But they did and for a season, it worked. That’s all they needed to begin to doubt that God was the exclusive answer. God asks us to walk by faith, not by sight. There’s a reason. At any given moment there are unpredictable forces at work, which could end up defining the next season of life. It seemed like they dodged a bullet with their treaties and policies, so they settled into their new, essentially God-less reality. God was less real, less important, less consulted, less obeyed.
The problem was the whole world was shifting underneath them. The secular policies that secured them for a time were passing away. Because the very institutions and nations which secured them were being swallowed up by unstoppable global forces.
Banks? We probably have to have them. Treaties? We need relationships with our neighbors. But documents don’t secure anything. Relationships of face-to-face trust do. Banks and empires are ultimately interested in customers and income; rarely possessing the actual power to secure our future. In good times, God provides for us all. Banks and policies get the credit, so they pass it on to us. Without realizing it we get more deeply connected to these human systems which will not be able to deliver us when the giant lizards come! (obscure reference to a ’90’s Toyota commercial, sorry!)
The nuclear winter ancient Judah did not see coming? One word: Nebuchadnezzar. He was the exquisitely brutal Babylonian prince of darkness, who was God’s chosen instrument of deconstruction.
So here were all the treaties and economic policies going up in smoke as the thundering hoofbeats of Babylonian troops shook the foundations of the known world. God tried to warn a nation through the reluctant but thundering voice of Jeremiah. “Repent. Return to me! Value justice and the cause of the poor! Do not trust in riches or foreign empires. Trust in me! Don’t think worship is a magical covering for an undevoted life. Make worship the authentic expression of a fully-devoted life of integrity. If you’ll admit you need me above all, I’ll give you the power to change. I’ll hold off the forces of doom. I, the Lord, am able to do it!” (paraphrasing the dominant messages of Jeremiah)
But they ignored this voice! Nay, they sought to snuff it out with great force! Jeremiah was suspended in a cage to be mocked. He was thrown into a muddy pit to rot and die! They called him a traitor, unpatriotic, even. How could he say such things about the most important nation in the world, God’s chosen people? They persisted in their sin-soaked, policy-secured, idolatrous way of life. They were full of contempt for the crazy prophet of gloom and doom.
But one-by-one the man of God’s predictions came true. Eventually, he said it was too late to avoid the consequences and they needed to prepare for deep austerity measures. They needed to submit to Babylon and endure being taken over, but survive. Yet again, they didn’t listen. So, the stubborn King of Judah was forced to watch his sons be brutally murdered. Then his eyes were gouged out. He has the “honor” of being Judah’s last real king, led away to captivity. Nebuchadnezzar had the idea he was doing the Lord’s work. In a way, he was: deconstructing a false reality, to make way for something new.
So is there hope if you’re somewhere in-between idolatry and Nebuchadnezzar? Jeremiah would say a resounding, YES!! And I say it’s a $13 trillion secret!
Imagine if we returned to truly honoring God above all else! Imagine if we went back to valuing people over things! Imagine if our policies were based on timeless principles of justice and love. Imagine an America where all of us know and care for our neighbors. Imagine a future where banks don’t over-promise and actually take care of their customers’ deposits. Imagine parents who know their kids and discipline them to respect God, authority, and themselves. Imagine doctors who treat people they actually know and care for; following through until they’re whole again. Imagine churches that preach the truth and actually call people to accountability in obeying God and loving people. Imagine people who serve their neighbor out of devotion to God. I’m not talking about religion-as-usual. Really loving God. Actually loving all people.
Right now we’re living a secular reality created by corporate-sponsored technology, huge banks, professional sports, mind-numbing entertainment and drug companies! We asked for it. They delivered it. But it cannot hold our future, because the tech is tainted, the banks spent our money, the athletes cheat, the movies appeal to our sin nature, and the pills saturate our water, indiscriminately medicating our food!
We’ve paid $13 trillion to try to build a world secured from both evil and God. And it is an epic Fail-Whale moment. Imagine if $13 trillion had gone to bless all who are in need. We’ve kept printing more money hoping it would somehow become more valuable in the process, delivering us from our afflictions. Instead, we’ve watered down the value of our own souls. We don’t know each other like we could. We don’t know the deep satisfaction that would come from really caring for each other. In the end, it doesn’t cost nearly as much to love our neighbor as it does to try build a world where we don’t have to.
And I think we could start re-building our world right now, just in the nick of time. We think we need more money. We don’t. We need more love. If we decide to hate our own cool indifference, something powerful could be unleashed. But it must begin on our knees before God. The true value is not in natural or financial resources, it’s the image of God in all of us. As we bow to God and bend to serve our neighbor we create actual value. In fact, resources only have value in the context of relationships of integrity. As we assign more value to God and others by our actions, we actually can reduce the debt. We enhance the spirits and bodies of others, who now are better able to affect their world.
We must begin with God, because we love best when we’ve let ourselves be loved authentically. God is the only reliable source of this kind of love. And God is the only one with the power to actually change us. But then we maintain this God-connection as we branch out; continually serving and teaching others who serve and teach. This creates value in the world which is not easily eroded. Eventually these “dollars” eat the debt dollars and something new (but actually quite ancient in concept) emerges—a more whole society.
The all-too-human pattern is then to say, “Whew! That was close, now let’s go back to business-as-usual!” If we do that, no power can save us from ourselves until we repent again, but it’s harder and more complicated next time…
The secret is to truly love and honor our holy God, then share that love with everyone. Would we be willing to try this for a $13 trillion return on our love investment? It seems God is giving us an opportunity to feel the pressure to change. But we really don’t have many other options. Because one day our lives will end. Our days of spinning on this ball will have passed. We will await the final judgment, where God will decide our fate. Through faith we can start fresh; forgiven and changed. But genuine faith-encounters change the trajectory of our lives and therefore our actions. We won’t be judged by comparison. We’ll be judged by the reality—the actual condition of our lives under grace.
Jesus is God-in-the-flesh, who came to earth to show us a life of love. He then laid down his life, dying on a cruel Roman cross. As they sought to destroy his obvious spiritual power, he absorbed all the hate and sin of it. God the Father counted this suffering as sufficient to cancel out the sins of all who confess and “believe into Jesus” with their lives. In a sense, he took upon himself our sin, so we could be made righteous. Not just “on the books”, but in reality. This trust in God makes grace active, creates a new reality. That’s the power that can deliver us all. God’s power. It lifts us now. It will save us when we stand before our enemies AND when we stand before God at the end.
There is a holiness without which no one will see God. It is this holiness (of a fully-surrendered life) that can change the world. You can’t conjure it up or earn it. But you can let it happen in you daily by forsaking (hating) your sin, devoting yourself to God (reading the Bible & praying long enough to feel God’s fire within), and obeying that fiery presence by serving all around you. This much we can all do. God will do amazing things in us when we make ourselves available to His grace. It’s His power made perfect in our weakness. We are transformed. Us, 2.0! The world is changed as we merely live in it!
We stay connected to God by gathering for worship and discipleship. The connection stays active/effective in us as we let the current flow through us to others in need.
God had to send Judah into a generation-long captivity to renew them. Let’s hope we can learn the easier way. It would take us forever to pay back our debt the old-fashioned way. Let’s let go of trusting in credit, economic policy, and ideology. Let’s honor God (with faith & obedience, which includes tithing) and value people again (through generosity). That’s the way of life God can bless. When God starts blessing again, value starts to multiply! Our new political leaders can’t do this for us. It’s outside the realm of legislation. Only God can do it. But God wants to do it in us. Only we can embrace it: love God, love people. It’s a $13 trillion secret!
Jeremiah 30:3 (MSG)
 “‘Look. The time is coming when I will turn everything around for my people… I, GOD, say so. I’ll bring them back…and they’ll take up ownership again.’”