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Photo courtesy of Arthur Davison

Photo courtesy of Arthur Davison

The first question the “Westminster Longer Catechism” asks,

What is the chief and highest end of man?

The answer, drawn from Scripture, says,

Man’s chief and highest end is to glorify God, and fully to enjoy him forever.

In a way that is perhaps surprising, we can do these things – glorify God and enjoy him forever – in a particular way through the discovery and sharing of economic truth.

If we cannot pursue economic understanding in a way that glorifies God, we should indeed close up that intellectual shop. Important biblical truths, however, direct us to view sound economic principles as part of the created order. Rather than distracting us away from glorifying God, they become the very vehicle by which we behold his glory all the more.

Economics and General Revelation

One of the chief ways God communicates his glory to us is through his works. Theologians call this general revelation. The Apostle Paul taught that Gentiles who had not been gifted with the Old Testament Scriptures still clearly perceived God’s invisible attributes, such as his eternal power and divine nature, because God had shown these attributes to them in his works (Romans 1:19–20). The Psalms teach that the heavens speak to us by declaring the glory and righteousness of God (Psalms 19:1; 97:6).

Dr. Brian Baugus helpfully reminds us of the many blessings made possible to us through the market activity and rightly exhorts us to contemplate how the market accomplishes this. The beauty of the market is one more reflection of the glory of the Creator, and of the economic laws that make the social division of labor possible. Indeed, as we observe, consider, and meditate on such laws, we see God’s glory.

As we share our understanding of these economic laws with others, we glorify God by directing people to the beauty and grandeur of his works.

Economics and the Image of God

The foundation of economic law is rooted in the Christian doctrine of man. What we study in economics is not the planets, animals, rocks, or vegetation. Rather, the object of study in economics is human beings as they interact via exchange. Sound economics, therefore, begins with a proper understanding of the nature of man.

  • The Christian view of humanity begins with the fact that man is created by God in his image (Genesis 1:27). We understand more about the nature of man, therefore, as we understand more about the image of God. In being made in the image of God, humans are like God in our intellectual and moral nature. We can learn something about the nature of man by examining the attributes of God.
  • For the purposes of the subject of economics, it is sufficient to stress only a few of God’s attributes. Christians know from Scripture that God thinks. In fact we are told God’s thoughts are higher than man’s thoughts (Isaiah 55:8-10). Not only does God think, but he plans. God had a plan to save Christians even before the foundation of the world (Ephesians 1:4, 5).
  • Scripture also affirms that God acts. Within only the first four verses of Genesis, we learn that God created, spoke, and divided (Genesis 1:1–4). All of these are actions. Additionally, God specifically acts with a purpose. God created the sun, moon, and stars with specific ends in mind—in order to serve as signs, seasons, days, and years and to give light to the earth (Genesis 1:14-17).

Because God thinks and acts with purpose and because man is made in the image of God, we know that man is able to think and act with purpose. This Christian understanding of man as a rational actor is the foundation of all sound economics.

Economics and Doxology

While one blog post is not long enough for a detailed exposition of economic theory, it is nevertheless true that from the biblical view of man as a purposeful actor, we can deduce the concepts of value, cost, profit, and loss, as well as the various economic laws such as the laws of supply and demand that constrain price determination.

For example, people use economic goods to serve various goals. Because our goods are scarce, people can only achieve some goals while others are left unfulfilled. This implies that humans must evaluate and rank their goals. They must plan to uses their goods and resources wisely, and act accordingly.

We naturally use whatever goods we have to serve our most highly valued goals. People naturally value goods according to the value of the goals that they serve. As the quantity of any good increases, the value of a unit of that good will be lower, other things equal. This is an example of what economists call the law of marginal utility. This law of marginal utility, in turn, is why, at the time of an exchange, people will only buy a larger quantity of a good if they are able to pay a lower price, which is a manifestation of the law of demand.

Such an understanding should promote the contemplation of the beautiful way that vast numbers of people can harmonize in peacefully fulfilling the cultural mandate. And such contemplation should, in turn, call forth doxology.

As the Psalmist says, “All your works shall give thanks to you, O Lord, and all your saints shall bless you!” (Psalms 145:10).

How do you see God’s glory reflected and revealed in economics? Leave your comments here.

Dr. Shawn Ritenour

About Dr. Shawn Ritenour

Dr. Shawn Ritenour is Professor of Economics at Grove City College and adjunct scholar at the Ludwig von Mises Institute. Dr. Ritenour earned a B. A. in economics from Northwestern College in Orange City, Iowa and a Ph.D. in economics at Auburn University. Prior to coming to Grove City College, Dr. Ritenour was holder of the Ruby Letsch-Roderique Chair of Economics at Southwest Baptist University. He has lectured for the Acton Institute, Institute for Principle Studies and the Ludwig von Mises Institute, and served as visiting professor at the University of Angers, France.

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  • J D M

    Thanks for the great article. I agree with the main points. I recognize that the focus on this article is perhaps more on economic principles. At the same time, I would argue that we perhaps should reevaluate an overemphasis on man as a purposeful and rational actor. I do agree that he is a rational actor. However the image of God in man also points to man as a relational being, created in the image of a relational and triune God. The Trinity points to the relational nature of the Creator of all, including economics. He creates man as a relational being, intended for relationship with God and fellow man. Economics touches on both points. Obviously we would all say “of course”. Perhaps though in its essence economics is both a relational exercise along with a purposeful and rational exercise. I point this out because I live and work in a former socialist country that in my estimation is avidly pursuing the purposeful nature of economics while failing to adequately engage and address the relational nature of economics. Thank you IFWE for delving into these critical and oftentimes unexplored areas of theological discussion.

  • Roger McKinney

    On the “image of God”, John H. Walton writes in “Ancient Near Eastern Thought and the Old Testament: Introducing the Conceptual World of the Hebrew Bible” that the term was common in Moses’ day. It applied to the idles in pagan temples and to monarchs and pharaoh. Moses applying the phrase to every person was radical.

    Applied to pharaoh, it gave him ownership over all the land and the people. Moses wrote that all people were pharaohs, so no one had the right to rule over another. That’s why Moses did not create a government patterned after that of Egypt with the Pharaoh owning everything, but created a bare bones government with no state other than judges. He gave Israel no king, no executive branch, no legislative branch, no police force or standing arming.