Most people are familiar with this saying (or paraphrase I suppose it is) of Jesus, even if they don’t know He is the one who originally said it. (apparently even Pink Floyd liked it enough to write a song about it…) We all deal with the realities and strains of living in a society where we need money to buy even the most basic of necessities. We go to work every day in order to be able to “pay the bills”. Politicians and pundits debate endlessly over economic policy. We do things like pay our taxes, watch the values of our homes go up and down, scratch our heads at the stock market, and feel absolutely dumbstruck trying to wrap our heads around the billions, even trillions, of dollars and other currencies that are digitally zipping around the globe every single day.
Money is everywhere, part of everything, and taken pretty much for granted as a basic, fundamental component of what we call “civilization”. But I have found myself wondering, what exactly IS money? Well, I know Webster defines it as: “Something generally accepted as a medium of exchange, a measure of value, or a means of payment“, and on the surface level, it seems like a pretty simple question with a fairly simple answer. After all, even small children can understand that you need money in order to buy something at the store. The thing is, as I have gotten older, (and ever so slightly more aware of how the world “works”), I have begun to see that the realm of money and economics is far more bizarre and convoluted than I used to think it was.
On the day-to-day level, we treat money as the representation of the value of goods or services. We go to work, and expect some degree of financial compensation. When we go to the grocery store, we understand that we have to pay for the food we buy. Etc., etc… Work = monetary value, and “Stuff” = value too. Pretty basic. But of course, the value attached to goods and services are not static, but are in fact relative (enter the good ol’ “Law of Supply and Demand”…) It fluctuates, depending on how much people want some thing or some service, and how much of those goods or services are available. (theoretically……….)
Now, where it starts to get wacky is when you start understanding that all of this “value” that is supposedly tied to tangible goods, and tangible services, is all poured into the same, giant economic stew pot with all of the “intangible value”. That is, things like money that is made simply by collecting interest on a loan, speculation on the commodities or “futures” market, value attributed to “intellectual property” associated with patents, copyrights, etc., the whole spectrum of the insurance industry, and of course the loathsome prevalence of attaching “fees” to every conceivable type of transaction, (regardless or whether or not there was any real effort put forth by the party collecting the fee…) The list of “intangible” sources of revenue in our modern society is ridiculously long, and I wouldn’t even attempt to name them all here. The simple point is, more and more people are beginning to realize the troubling reality that today it is very easy to see the “value” one has built up through their own real, hard work (sometimes for many years) suddenly vanish into thin air, when say, their investment portfolio falls flat, or even if their bank goes belly up due to reasons completely outside of their control. The troubling fact is, money can just “die”, (poof!), with seemingly no real-world justification. “Back in the olden days”, there was of course always the possibility of your tangible assets meeting a tragic, tangible fate. Your crops could die. Your house could burn down. Your ship full of gold bullion could sink. (you get the idea) There was a time when money and value seemed much less vapid and a lot more substantive. Many people recognize this, some of them pointing to the departure of the dollar from the “gold standard”, as being the “point of no return”, when things took a fatal turn into the abyss of modern economics…
But what about before that? What are the underlying, philosophical assumptions that allow “money” to exist in the first place?
One thing I always find fascinating in studying history, are the moments when a “civilized” nation or empire encounters, and then works to colonize, a region with a “primitive” culture. Whether you’re looking at the expansion of the Greek or Roman empires, or the European acquisition of the Americas, or even the process that the United States went through in order to take over places like the Hawaiian islands, you see this repeating pattern where the colonizers come in and take advantage of the fact that the local populace has no system in place for the legal ownership of land (along with their advanced military strength, of course). The case of Hawaii is appalling, especially since it is a portion of U.S. history that most of us in the United States are taught little to nothing about. Basically, the rich, American plantation-bosses needed a way to enact a law enabling them to actually purchase Hawaiian land, (since under the Hawaiian monarchy system there was no actual provision for the legal ownership of land), so they drummed up a false “riot” in Honolulu which then prompted 200 marines to come in and take over the Hawaiian capital, where they forced the Queen to sign the “bayonet constitution”. Under the details of the new laws, pretty much the only ones who were qualified to purchase land were (big surprise) the American plantation bosses…
Anyhow, I bring this up because it would seem that this basic notion of land ownership is actually pretty integral to the aim of setting up a real monetary system in the first place. If we think back, like, waaaay back, to the beginnings of human history and the first examples of city-states being created, both before the Flood and after, then some pretty interesting ideas begin to emerge. After the fall, God charged man with having to work the soil, to live basically a simple, agrarian existence. Man would plant seeds, grow crops, relying on God to provide the sunshine, the rain, and to make things grow. It was a very direct, hands-on way of life where there was almost always a measure of manual labor required, but this would also encourage and attitude of thankfulness towards the Creator when the harvest came in, or when an animal gave birth, or when some wild game was hunted, or whatever. The idea was supposed to be about relying on the provision of God, and the contributions of the entire family or tribe.
In contrast, the act of building a city is a whole different thing. It is premised on the idea of relying on a larger mass of people, gathered together in a strategic place, where a certain segment of the population do things like grow the food, hunt, fish, make clothes, etc., and a different segment handles the administration, or “security”, and whatever else. You have a class structure. There are defined borders of the kingdom or city-state, which are defended. In most cases, the king “owns” everything within those borders, and so, having those pieces in place, a singular system of trade and commerce can be instituted. You can now go from a barter economy to a monetary economy.
I find all of this even more interesting when you start looking at it from a “Genesis 6 point of view”. The Bible indicates that after the flood, the people disobeyed the command of God to spread out and fill the earth, and instead gathered in the plains of Shinar, where they eventually began to build a tower in order to reach the heavens. Much has already been said about Babel/Babylon and the kingdom of the fallen cherub, so I won’t get into all of that. My whole point is that history clearly shows that almost without exception, these ancient cities were extremely pagan and occult-centered, and these demonically-inspired kingdoms/empires to constantly seek to expand. The more laborers, land, animals, trees, minerals, etc., that can be swallowed up by the “machine” of a given empire, the stronger it becomes. That is the nature of empire. As “civilization” expands, it by its own nature works to quantify and monetize everything in its path in order to assimilate it. And so, throughout history, as the “civilized” world has stretched itself further and further around the globe, so does this process of total monetization. Plants and animals become solely sources of food and clothing. Humans become laborers, administrators, rulers, soldiers. Land is regarded for its usefulness for habitation, food production, or placement of strategic military defenses. With boats and ships waterways become food sources, and means of long distance transportation. Through the centuries, the drive to consume the people and resources of the earth never ceases. There is eventually the trading of slaves, sugar, tea, and opium, all on a global scale. The “industrial revolution” brings about new demand for things like oil and various metals. These are things that were just sitting in the ground, for thousands of years, until man got to the place where (because of imperial expansion) they finally have “value”, and so, POOF!, there is “money”, just sitting there in the ground, all you have to do is dig it up.
The crazy part is, that the money you and I have right now, in our wallets, bank accounts, whatever, is not disconnected from this entire history of empirical expansion and the monetization of the natural world. It does not exist in a vacuum. There was no point at which modern society hit the reset button and redefined the underlying concepts of “value” and “ownership”. The reason people can “own” their own homes (and the land upon which they sit) in my neighborhood, is because many years ago, this land was “bought” from Spain, (who merely planted their flag on it…), and then the people who were living here first were systematically herded off their traditional lands, and the process of dividing it up and monetizing it began. So, as I see it, the notion that there are all these separate and distinct currencies operating all around the world, actually serves to obfuscate the reality that all of these governments are all ALREADY operating under the same basic set of assumptions, connected to the monetization of goods, services, and the natural world. Back in biblical times, it was at least possible to reject the prospect of living under the reign of a given empire, and try to go find one’s own self-sustained existence somewhere beyond the reaches of “civilization”. Today, such an endeavor would be next to impossible. What’s more, the incredible disparity between the rich and the poor, the fluctuation of values between currencies, the shenanigans going on with countries like Greece and Spain and their problems with the Euro, all of these modern dilemmas really only point to one eventuality. The constant growth of this huge problem with all the “funny money” around the world, (all this craziness due to the issue of “intangible” value intermixing with the “tangible”), can only have one answer that will eventually be accepted as “fair”. After all, the reason a single city-state would install a single currency is to make trading within it’s borders “fair”. When several cities are linked together into a kingdom, a single currency makes things “fair”, and arguably their entire economy stronger. Same thing when kingdoms (countries) band together into an economic group, they have to wrestle with how to make things “fair”. (as we are seeing the debate in Europe happen right now) And when it comes to making things economically “fair” around the entire world? Yeah, you already know the answer….
The point is not necessarily to say that we should try to figure out a way live “off the financial grid” (although, who knows, one day God might just call us to do that…), but really more about trying to maintain a healthy overall perspective. God calls us to remember that HE is the creator, and sustainer, of all life. HE is the one gives us the sun, the rain, the snowpack, the seasons, the soil, the animals and everything else that we get all of our “products” from. “He owns the cattle on a thousand hills”. He is the one really making the whole “engine” go! The monetization of everything around us works to deceive and distract us from this truth. It is not a sin to use money, but it is a sin to put our trust in it, because to trust in money is essentially to trust in the overall system of man, our own ability to harness and subjugate the creation for our own ends. If we find ourselves reacting with a sense of righteous indignation when our little personal fortunes are attacked by the calloused realities of modern “voodoo economics”, we have to stop and remember that so much of the “wealth” we now have access to only exists in the first place because of the massive amount of exploitation of peoples, places, and things that occurred before we were even born. The frustrating prospect of seeing our money swallowed up by unfair and unscrupulous business practices has to be balanced out by the realization that the manner by which so much “value” is created (the process of monetizing the natural and intellectual world) is often times no less sinister than the manner by which so much of it is destroyed…
We already live in a global economy, and have been doing so for quite some time now. The fact that there is so much that falls under the category of “economic turmoil” can perhaps be understood to be the unavoidable consequence of the nature of “money” itself (the monetization of everything), and this turmoil certainly feels as though it were actually designed to bring us to that final step of adopting a single currency, a truly one-world system. After all, didn’t Satan offer Jesus all the kingdoms of the earth (and by extension, all their monetary wealth) when he was tempting Him in the desert? Doesn’t that go to show that all the money on earth is already his, as a component of his carnal, rebellious, “kingdom of this world”? But we know that God did not create the earth, the plants, the animals, and humanity with the original intention of having to monetize every aspect of His creation in order for us to live in harmony with it (there was no cash in the garden of Eden!). In the New Jerusalem, I feel pretty confident that there will be no money there either, for why would there be any need?
All in all, reflecting on these matters has really brought a new depth to the words of Jesus when he was asked about paying taxes to Caesar…
Then the Pharisees went out and laid plans to trap him in his words. They sent their disciples to him along with the Herodians. “Teacher,” they said, “we know that you are a man of integrity and that you teach the way of God in accordance with the truth. You aren’t swayed by others, because you pay no attention to who they are. Tell us then, what is your opinion? Is it right to pay the imperial tax to Caesar or not?”
But Jesus, knowing their evil intent, said, “You hypocrites, why are you trying to trap me? Show me the coin used for paying the tax.” They brought him a denarius, and he asked them, “Whose image is this? And whose inscription?”
“Caesar’s,” they replied.
Now if Caesar had declared himself to be a god, and demanded to be worshipped as such, does that not make him a type of “antichrist”? So today, as things continue to unfold, we too must remember Jesus’ command to “give to Caesar what is Caesar’s, and give to God what is God’s”…