Most of us have been badly shaken by the tumultuous events on Wall Street in recent weeks. If you have an IRA or some kind of retirement plan, no doubt you are licking your wounds. You may even be fearful. I understand. I have experienced those apprehensions myself.
But we need to remember that fear is always the enemy of faith. The financial markets are his. The world is his.
Here is something else to remember: God often uses adversity for his greatest blessings — in several ways in this case. Christians are called to do the best things in the worst of times.
Above all, remember this: God is on his throne. Maybe the "eat, drink, and be merry" attitude of Americans needed a little adjustment — as does the spiritually casual attitude of the church.
Accounting for disaster
The near collapse and buyout of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac are prime examples of Washington corruption. For at least a decade, a few brave politicians have sought to reform these quasi-governmental behemoths, only to be beaten back by political powerbrokers. Why? Because, as they say, money talks.
So while the politicians were busy padding their cozy little nests, the chickens have come home to roost.
The first step in the cleanup is the massive $700 billion plan proposed by Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson and passed by the Senate Wednesday night. Of course the people who are steering this plan through Congress are the very characters who brought us this crisis. And they are already looking for political and financial goodies they can hang on to the plan.
I have got a better idea. Those who steered Fannie and Freddie into the ground should return to the taxpayers their ridiculous compensation. And if there was criminality involved—either with corrupt executives or elected leaders—then let's have some indictments.
Cost and opportunity
Meanwhile, across America folks are outraged by the government's rescue plan for the nation's financial system. I understand — $700 billion is a lot of money.
Call it sticker shock. But let's get some perspective. Some estimate that the United States will spend more than $400 billion this year alone on foreign oil. So $700 billion is less than what we will be spending on foreign oil this year and next, putting money in the pockets of the likes of Saudi Arabia (which is an exporter of extremist Wahhabi Islam) and Venezuela (whose volatile leader, Hugo Chavez, makes no bones about hating the U.S.).
As this financial crisis spreads uncertainty throughout the markets and across Main Street, there's another opportunity on the table: the opportunity we Christians have to witness to our neighbors.
How you react to this crisis — in conversations with friends, in helping a family in trouble, in how you live within your means — will speak volumes about the confidence you have in Christ and in the sovereignty of God.
What's in it for me?
On Monday, the House of Representatives surprised its leaders, the administration, and, most of all, the financial community by rejecting the agreed-upon financial rescue plan.
Two-thirds of all Republicans and two-fifths of all Democrats voted against the plan, with predictable results. The markets tanked around the world.
Now to be sure, some opposed the rescue measure on principle. But many who voted against the bill merely reflected the will of their constituencies, who wondered why their money should be used to take other people off the hook.
I can't help but think this illustrates how far we have gone down the path of viewing all politics and all of life as "what's in it for me."
No great civilization has ever been built, or maintained, on that basis. That idea cannot demand, much less inspire, the necessary sacrifices to keep a civilization great, or even healthy. There's nothing to aspire to apart from fleeting self-satisfaction.
I respect the principled opposition to the rescue plan by some members. But the fate of the economy is hanging in the balance. If the American people can't look beyond the "me" and see the "we" with this much at stake, then much more than our retirement funds and our bank accounts are at risk.
Consumption and crisis
The financial crisis was precipitated by the meltdown of the sub-prime mortgage market. Millions of Americans took out mortgages they could not afford to buy houses that in some cases they really didn't need.
But it's not just the sub-prime mess. The personal debt of Americans is at record levels, and everything from the war in Iraq to Katrina recovery is funded by borrowing. Both political parties are quick to promise specific "goodies," such as new entitlements or tax cuts or new roads, but they never say how they are going to pay for them.
The answer, of course, is that they haven't a clue, other than to borrow from foreigners and then stick our children and grandchildren with the bill for some future day.
So first, we put our own houses in order. Next, we demand that our political leaders stop behaving like Santa Claus, or shopaholics in an outlet mall. In fact, I am tempted to say that we ought to be voting for the candidates who promise us the least goodies and tell us the hard truth: that we have to start acting responsibly.
Playing it SAFE
Once we get past this crisis, as we will, we are still a long way from getting our economic house in order. The problem is that we — politicians and those of us who demand they deliver the goods — have lost the political will to make the choices necessary to live within our means.
Congressman Frank Wolf of Virginia has proposed the creation of a bipartisan blue-ribbon commission called SAFE: Securing America's Future Economy. The SAFE Commission would identify the things we can afford and the things we can't afford. It would examine entitlements in a way that politicians seeking re-election dare not.
As it is, the nation's economy is in for a rough ride. But we may also be in the midst of what is called a "teachable moment." We ought to take advantage of it and show the world that we have the civic courage to do what is right.
Charles Colson is a Christianity Today columnist and founder of Prison Fellowship Ministries. This article is adapted from a series of radio commentaries for PFM'sBreakPoint. Excerpted with permission of PFM.
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Al Mohler also wrote "A Christian View of the Economic Crisis."