I think it is important to keep in mind that it is not the world of economics that is critical to human life on earth. When I left the field of economics for what I still believe to be a more important life agenda, it was because I regarded economics as driving cross-country at 80 mph with my eyes firmly fixed on the rear-view mirror.
We do, in fact, live in a world defined by economic and political realities, just as a fish lives in water. But that economic world has existed for less than 300 years and it will not last forever. When we talk of poverty or the benefits of living above poverty, it’s easy to think that the miseries of poverty are true miseries. But that misery is often only the economic part of the story. Poverty of mind, of person, and, worst, of soul are the true poverties. Comfortable affluence addresses the less important parts of being human.
I wrote my book, Integrated Justice and Equality, to rebuke the current supremacy of the trendy idea about income redistribution. But is income really the point of life? If I had not focused on biblical integration, my work would have just been a commentary on economic well-being without an anchor.
We live in a world of true human beings for whom poverty, absolute or relative, does not determine who we are nor what contribution we can make to life, to our families, societies, or to our eternal destinies. There is no end to the list of heroes who are poor or to the list of rich and comfortable idiots.
If we had to choose between greatness of wealth, greatness of fame, greatness of genius or greatness of soul, I hope we would choose “soul.” Although your boss or your teacher or Steve Jobs or other inventors of various comforts are certainly important, it may have been your grandmother or a mentor with a certain greatness of soul who impacted you deeply.
We revere those people for who they are, not for their wealth. We all know that Jesus commanded no army or nation and that he was obscure. However, he was the essence of what we call “greatness of soul,” and with that, he not only shaped millions of lives but also two millennia of western culture. He has given a pathway to understand what the truly worthy ways of life are: compassion, sacrifice, faith, hope, and love.
The incarnation is part of the life-giving grace of God. If we could lift our eyes we might see him. These ways of faith may seem silly to some cynical economic or political leaders, but these are the ways that can make us fully alive. If we give up on these, our poverty could not be cured by empty comforts or by wealth.