(warning, one of those slightly imbalanced, not sure if what I’m saying is right but I just have to get it out there even if I’m incredibly wrong posts coming up)
This weekend I started to wonder how the early church leaders picked the letters and gospels which end up in what we call The Bible.
So I picked up the first church history book I could find and started reading.
However, the thing that caught my attention was not a chapter on how the books of the New Testament made it in, it was a chapter on why the early Christians were first persecuted by the Roman Empire.
Basically it seems that they were awkward.
Well awkward in the sense that when someone started living like Jesus in Roman society they didn’t fit in with that culture as their lifestyle was something different.
This bit in particular caught my eye as it does a better job at explaining some of how I’ve been feeling in our ‘hyper-economic-profit-competition-and-PROFIT-is-king’ society but not been able to express.
‘The Christian fear of idolatry also led to difficulties in making a living. A mason might be involved in building the walls of a heathen temple, a tailor in making robes for a heathen priest, an incense-maker in making incense for the heathen sacrifices…We might think that working with the sick would be a simple act of kindness. But even here early Christians found the pagan hospitals under the protection of the heathen god Aesculapius, and while a sick friend lay in his bed, the priest went down the aisle chanting to the god.
In short, the early Christian was almost bound to divorce himself from the social and economic life of his time -if he wanted to be true to his Lord’
Church History in Plain Language, Bruce L. Shelley
I’ve found it difficult to make a living as well the last number of years and with that there is a certain amount of shame that you aren’t providing for your family, which is heightened by various scolding voices in the New Testament ( “Anyone who does not provide for their relatives, and especially for their own household, has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever” )
It’s verses like that one from 1 Timothy which really piss me off as on first reading it’s saying/sounds like it’s saying that my inability to provide a living wage for my wife and extended family is a denial of the faith and worse than unbelieving.
And it’s that scolding of that verse and my inability to articulate things which means tonight I won’t feel comfortable enough to go to Men’s Group as the first question someone will ask me (just as they’ve asked me any time I’ve gone before) will be
‘Well Dave, any news on the job front?‘
because invariably I’ll feel embarrassed and ashamed that I haven’t found work yet, that I haven’t sent out hundreds of CVs or been trying to best everybody else out there looking for a job for the sake of my family
and basically I will get the feeling from these men (perfectly nice, Christian men who are probably just concerned for me and us) that I’m a hopeless, lazy Christian.
Yet it’s hard because I do want to provide for my family.
I’d love to provide for my family given half the chance.
It’s just that I don’t want to provide for my family using the ways of the world to provide for them or by helping the hyper-consumerist Empire that is destroying the creation that we should be looking after and caring for.
That is a clumsy way of putting things. Maybe a better way is to say ‘The Kingdom on Earth as in Heaven’.
If someone wants to do everything in their power to prove that they’re a more suitable candidate for a job than another person, if they want to compete,win and earn a job that will provide a living wage for their family I understand.
They love their family and want to provide for them. I admire that and many times I wish God had made me more competitive or more of a ‘man’ , that I was less of a walkover.
But for me, as a Christian I can’t see how this whole competing thing works within the kingdom of God.
I can’t see how scanning the papers and trying to ring in your application before someone else notices the job is particularly Christian. It seems very Darwinian of something.
Why would I be more suitable or worthy of a job than the hundreds of other people who are looking for a job?
Is my family any more important than their family from God’s point of view?
But that’s not the main reason I guess.
The main reason for me is something like the reason the Christian stone mason in the quote above didn’t want to build a heathen temple or the early Christian tailor might have refused to make robes for the temple priests.
In my heart working in somewhere like Tesco or any company where the core purpose is to increase the profits of the company at any cost would be like working in the heathen temple of our age.
I’m not condemning those who do, Christian or otherwise.
Well maybe I am in part. Perhaps I am lazy.
But what if you’re a Christian working hard in Thales Air Defence making missiles?
What if you’re a Christian working for Tesco to grab customers away from local shops?
What if you’re a Christian working for a bank that was more concerned with profits than people?
Does working hard, getting a wage and providing for your family necessarily mean you’re doing the right thing?
It’s just that it my heart I do want to provide for my family but I don’t want to do that by bowing my knee to the great god PROFIT or free market capitalism or whatever way we want to describe our present day Emperor as, or by doing work that is destructive and unloving to my neighbour, my neighbour in our local community or our global neighbour.
Seeing the fear that THE ECONOMY or THE GLOBAL ECONOMY can strike into the hearts of politicians and how that they will do anything to keep it appeased makes me want to run a mile from it as.
Basically it seems to be our Roman Empire or something very similar,
the thing that will bring worldwide peace if we keep it onside by our sacrifice and hard work.
But if the Bible is true, it won’t bring us peace. Jesus brings us peace, not whoever is up the Swiss Alps in Davos deciding that we must do this or that to bring world wide peace.
So Paul if you can help me understand how to provide for my family while at the same time not depending on false kingdoms for my daily bread I’d love to know.