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When economists talk about the free-market economy, they use principles that help explain what may come from certain actions. Their explanations emphasize an element of predictability.

But no one can know exactly what will happen in particular situations since unseen variables can affect outcomes. How should Christians approach the unpredictability inherent in our market economy?

Christians need not fear the unpredictability of the market because of the assurance we have in Christ.

Colossians 1:17 says,

He [Christ] is before all things, and in him all things hold together. 

This is not to trivialize the difficulties we face because of market turmoil. Businesses close, jobs are lost, savings disappear. These are all real experiences that have deep, cutting repercussions in people’s lives.

Humans naturally seek to control unpredictability, establish security, and prevent these painful outcomes. It’s in our nature to want to take control.

This is apparent in Genesis 3. Adam and Eve ate the apple in part because they desired to know the unknown. The Bible is filled with story after story of men and women thinking they know best despite God calling them to obedience and trust.

Human attempts to control uncertainty have negative affects in the market, too. Communism at the nation-state level has always begun with intentions to establish security but has led to poverty, oppression, and collapse.

Friedrich Hayek, the Nobel Prize winning economist, explained why attempts to control economic unpredictability often fail: no one person possesses all the knowledge to prevent that which causes uncertainty in the market. In his essay “The Use of Knowledge In Society,” Hayek writes (emphasis added),

What is the problem we wish to solve when we try to construct a rational economic order?…to put it briefly, it is a problem of the utilization of knowledge which is not given to anyone in its totality.

Economists refer to this lack of information as the knowledge problem. No one person possess all the knowledge needed to control uncertainty.

Our approach to uncertainty and unpredictability in the market, then, should not be a desire to control driven by fear of the unknown. Hayek’s recognition of the knowledge problem suggests humility as a better approach. As Hayek himself said,

The curious task of economics is to demonstrate to men how little they really know about what they imagine they can design.

Humility recognizes what little can be known and controlled. It’s hard to admit that we, by ourselves, can’t solve or fix everything. But this admission isn’t a sign of weakness. It’s an affirmation of our significance.

God has created us with unique knowledge, gifts, and skills. The knowledge I don’t have, you might possess. The problems I can’ t fix, you might have the skills to help, and vice versa. Our uniqueness means we all have a role to play in overcoming uncertainty and the problems it raises.

It’s important to remember that the market’s changing dynamics also allow for new jobs and industries to be created. As history has shown, human flourishing follows when:

Humanity’s God-given creativity means surprising solutions constantly spring up. Unpredictability in the market isn’t always negative – good surprises, solutions no one could have imagined or dreamed of, are a part of the market, too.

The story of the baby-carrot is one illustration of surprise in the market. Ugly, full-size carrots were often discarded. Tired of seeing such waste, Mike Yurosek came up with the idea of shaving away the ugly parts and repacking them as a different product: the baby carrot. What was once waste surprisingly became a product of value to shoppers.

Should we put all our faith in the market to end uncertainty? Absolutely not. We should have confidence in our ability to solve problems and meet people’s needs through market because of the talents and creativity God has given us. Our ultimate faith belongs only in God, who is infallible and justly deserves such honor.

However, just as it is appropriate for a Christian to save money or work hard —in other words, acting wisely with the resources we have—it is appropriate to wisely take into account that the market will naturally tend to benefit others.

Knowing that Christ is in control, how then should we act in such an unpredictable world? I think Micah 6:8 provides the answer:

He has showed you, O man, what is good. And what does the LORD require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.

How do you do deal with uncertainty in the market? Leave your comments here.

Taylor Barkley

About Taylor Barkley

Taylor Barkley is an outreach associate at a non-profit public policy center in the Washington, DC area and is also a graduate student in the George Mason University School of Public Policy. Mr. Barkley graduated from Taylor University in 2009 with a double major in history and political science.

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  • RogerMcKinney

    NIce post! Proverbs is full of advice on handling uncertainty, too. Essentially it boils down to save for bad times and old age and diversify your investments.

  • Jim Price

    “God has created us with unique knowledge, gifts, and skills. The knowledge I don’t have, you might possess.” The trouble with the system as it is right now in our country is that a very few at the top of the economic system believe that they are the divine appointees, the gate keepers for the rest of us. Yet we have gifts and skills, that in effect has made them billionaires or multimillionaires. These folk cannot build bridges, skyscrapers nor highways yet often devise ways so that the lower ranks of society cannot get a foothold.
    Surely we can’t use the Bible to suggest that we follow these leaders in blind faith. Nor do we have to accept that any deviation from the old; free-for-all system, will lead us to communism or to socialism. A society that has dozens of choices on their cell phones, does not have to settle on one of three economic systems.

  • Taylor Barkley

    Amen. 1 Timothy
    6:6-16 speaks so well to the consequences of pursuing money for money’s sake.
    Finding security only in money or our possessions makes them into a god and
    like it says in this passage, that attitude leads to “ruin and
    destruction.”