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Economic Goods and the Problem of Greed

By. Dr. Paul Cleveland –

It is sometimes thought that capitalism promotes greed. Indeed, critics of the free market routinely argue that people left to their own devices in the economic arena engage in all sorts of greedy behavior. But is this criticism valid?

The proliferation of economic goods may indeed give us the appearance that there is more greed. When products are in abundance, they may well as objects of inordinate desire amongst us. But is that sufficient evidence that economic prosperity produces greed? I think not.

In truth, they merely serve as a device that reveals our inherent sin. The problem is not prosperity. The problem is that we love the darkness more than the light. Economic goods, in and of themselves are morally neutral since they are just objects. The problem is with us. When goods and services and abundantly present our tendency is not to give thanks to God or acknowledge His provision, but to say to ourselves, “look at what my own hands have made.” Furthermore, when wealth is created and we have less it than our neighbors, we are inclined to begrudge their god fortune. Our sinful passions incite us to think that we deserve these things more than they do. The problem is that we covet what others have. Thus, while it might be the case that greed is more apparent when wealth abounds, that does not mean that greed is not present when poverty abounds.

All sin leads to death. It does us little good to gloss over or hide our sin from ourselves so that we can pretend to be better than we really are. Poor people can be just as greedy and covetous as those who are rich. Coveting is endemic to sinful humanity. Our real need is to have the sinful desires rooted out of our lives. There is pain in this process, but the outcome is worth pursuing. This is life inside God’s will, living in His love and joy. It brings the experience of life. This life comes from God alone. The Father has chosen His people, Christ has secured forgiveness of sins, and the Holy Spirit is currently at work bringing the new life to fruition in the people of God. Thus while we may struggle with our greed when we see the prosperity of our neighbors, that struggle is worthwhile if it moves us to confession of sin and a renewed dependence on the salvation that only God can provide in Christ Jesus.

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