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So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.

-2 Corinthians 4:18

Last week I offered a few articles that are good for Christians to read when it comes to breaking the ice with economics. Over the next few weeks, I want to periodically share a handful of videos with you that illustrate key economic concepts that are important for Christians to understand.

This week’s video is a powerful lesson of understanding and employing the economic way of thinking. If we are only concerned with the short-term, immediate effects of our actions, we are not living out stewardship as God has called us.

As we exercise dominion over creation and take ownership of private property, we are to be good stewards. God has not just called us to preserve what he has given us, but to increase and grow it. Our job description as given in Genesis 2 is to:

  • Be fruitful and multiply.
  • Create rather than destroy.
  • Use our ingenuity and talent to increase the sum of flourishing, not just preserve existing levels.

You can imagine how our behavior would change if we were only to concern ourselves with instant gratification and ignore long-term effects. We would spend more, eat more, and indulge more than is appropriate.

Accumulating wealth can be an outcome of good stewardship; it requires wise and prudent decisions concerning how and when to allocate our scarce resources. If we ignore the long-term effects of our actions, we cannot utilize our resources wisely.

French economist Frederic Bastiat wrote on this in his 1850 essay, That Which is Seen and That Which is Not Seen, featuring his vignette about a broken window:

Have you ever witnessed the anger of the good shopkeeper, James B., when his careless son happened to break a square of glass? If you have been present at such a scene, you will most assuredly bear witness to the fact, that every one of the spectators, were there even thirty of them, by common consent apparently, offered the unfortunate owner this invariable consolation – ‘It is an ill wind that blows nobody good. Everybody must live, and what would become of the glaziers if panes of glass were never broken?’ Now, this form of condolence contains an entire theory, which it will be well to show up in this simple case, seeing that it is precisely the same as that which, unhappily, regulates the greater part of our economical institutions.

As IFWE economist Art Carden details in this video, we sometimes view hurricanes, war, depressions and other disasters as opportunities to spend money and stimulate the economy. Yet we ignore what necessarily had to be destroyed in order for that money to be spent. Moreover, we overlook the opportunities that we miss from having to spend time and money on rebuilding rather than investing resources and ingenuity in finding new ways to create value.

Seeing the unseen requires critical thinking and discernment. It runs counter to a great deal of thinking over how a society should “manage” its economy. In fact, John Maynard Keynes who famously said, “The long run is a misleading guide to current affairs. In the long run we are all dead.”

Christians know that this is false. In fact, as Elise Amyx has pointed out here before: “In the long run we are all very much alive!”

The sacrifice of Christ is the reason we have hope and a future, and the meta-narrative of Scripture confirms that our journey on this earth matters. Our behavior can either contribute to or detract from flourishing. Seeing the unseen and incorporating it into our decision making ensures that greater degrees of flourishing are possible.

How can we look ahead to see the unseen and exercise good stewardship? Leave your comments here.

Dr. Anne Bradley

About Dr. Anne Bradley

Anne Bradley, Ph.D. is Vice President of Economic Initiatives at the Institute for Faith, Work & Economics. Anne received her Ph.D. in Economics from George Mason University. She is a visiting professor at Georgetown University and has previously taught at George Mason University and at Charles University in Prague. Read More...

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  • Dan Burke

    An excellent post. I am a member of a PCA church of 1000 folks. I have been trying for about four years to introduce our people to good economics with only a little success. The seen and unseen teaching is certainly helpful.

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