On Exchange, Faith, and the Presence of God

Once we have established the presence of two independent producers, i.e., recognizing the division of labor as the foundation of the potential for a marketplace, if those producers can be found to be interested in the product of the other, opportunity arises to exchange, whether goods, services, information, or any other currency item of value to both parties.

From the ability to enter into exchanges arise a plethora of economic relationships. Parties to exchange bring whatever advantage they possess to the bargaining table in the pursuit of the products brought by the other parties. Interestingly, God sought an exchange with human kind that was not material or valuable to God in a financial way. What Adam received was sustenance in abundance beyond our imagination. But what God sought from Adam was loyalty, a commitment to obedience, to holiness, that would allow Adam to remain in God’s presence. To God the valuable was fellowship. Perhaps we find some degree of equivalence in the idea of paying a retainer, knowing that we have not paid for the services of an attorney or accountant per se but when the time comes to engage their services, we already have their commitment to our cause. In that sense, material provision is exchanged for allegiance, or obedience in Adam’s case.

Economic relationships need not be simple, direct exchanges, as in bartering chickens for wheat or giving money for bread, but can be defined by any number of other arrangements, varying by degrees of complexity and depth. Specifically, the economic relationship between God and humankind follows most closely on the model of patron (pater, meaning father or benefactor) and client (cliens, meaning dependent or follower). The patron-client arrangement is typical thought to be one of endurance and may involve a myriad of exchanges in kind and number.

The patron typically does not need the loyalty or efforts of a particular client but does desire that commitment from someone. The client may not need the favor of a particular patron but is able to live more readily if they receive the favor of some patron than if they do not. The exchange between the patron and client then is an agreed upon arrangement, not one of overt coercion by either party but of convenience to both. Either party may suffer unnecessarily without the presence of the relationship but both recognize the greater opportunity to achieve desirable results if a symbiotic balance can be struck.

Opportunity can be created but operators / actors / producers must engage that opportunity to make it a reality. Opportunity can exist on a conceptual level, present and at the same time lost, if passed by. God’s intention in creation is best summed up in Hebrews 2:10 – His desire to bring many sons (and daughters) to glory, to create for Himself a divine family beyond the Trinity itself. A friend of mine is currently finishing a doctoral dissertation on sonship as the unifying theme of the Epistle to the Hebrews, perhaps one of the most important theological developments in the history of biblical research. Through the work of Jesus on the Cross God has made the Way available to enter into redeemed life but, sadly, it is often a door passed by. The glory of God, largely unseen except by being in relationship to God, is disregarded by the passersby.

God created Adam and Eve (made in the image of God both male and female – Genesis 1:27) and in so doing created the opportunity for humankind to live in harmony with Him. After the Fall, the act of the redeeming kinsman, Jesus, re-invigorated the opportunity (Leviticus 25:25). The relationship between God and humankind is a family structure as the Latin pater implies (father) but also an economic arrangement implied by that same term (benefactor, or provider). When Abraham was commanded to sacrifice Isaac and Isaac questioned where they were to find an appropriate animal for the sacrifice, Abraham responded “God will provide for Himself the lamb for the burnt offering” (Genesis 22:7–8).

The combination of provide and God in the passage above is that from which we derive the name Jehovah-Jireh, God-My-Provider. Popular English translations of the Bible interpret the Hebrew raah (Strong’s 7200) as provide. But this meaning may be shortsighted, if you will pardon the pun (about to be revealed). Raah is a primitive Hebrew root which means to see. It appears more than 1300 times in the Old Testament and is only interpreted along the lines of providing in five places, an occurrence of less than one half one percent. Raah has many, MANY interpretations into English in the Old Testament. The predominant uses have to do with sight: seeing, looking, appearing, and so on.

It would almost seem as if Abraham could have been saying, when questioned about the material sacrifice, that God will appear. I take that tack to think along the line of exchanges. In this passage it was an exchange of a material sacrifice in obedience to God’s command to Abraham, a demonstration of Abraham’s loyalty, out of gratitude for God’s goodness to Abraham in the giving of fruitful land and an heir.

If God were to appear in the midst of this exchange, a material sacrifice of loyalty, perhaps we can see a correlation to how we undertake marketplace activities. We live with the promise that God blesses the home of the righteous (Proverbs 3:33). When we act according to holiness in market exchanges, that is, acting righteously and generously trusting in a God who rewards, does God appear in the midst of the transaction? How do we judge our marketplace behaviors, our exchanges, as witness to the glory of God? When we negotiate trade, do we facilitate the manifestation of God’s glory or the presence of others gods? How might God show up in the midst of doing business?

(David Doty has been a serial entrepreneur, a seminarian, and an author. His first book, Eden’s Bridge: The Marketplace in Creation and Mission – Wipf & Stock Publishers, January 1, 2012 – articulates the first theology of the marketplace as an institution of God, implicit in the creation narrative of Genesis 1-2 and vital to God’s redemptive mission in the world.)

2 Comments

Filed under Faith in the Marketplace

2 responses to “On Exchange, Faith, and the Presence of God

  1. Gary A.

    I’m in! I love the concept of ‘serial entrepreneur’! Not quite sure what you want to do, but I’d like to come along for the ride. Is the goal to be a kind of Christian ‘Kickstarter’?

    • Gary –

      Most of what I write is the product of now nine years’ research into the integration of economics, the marketplace, vocation and our Christian faith. The thesis of my book, Eden’s Bridge: The Marketplace in Creation and Mission, is that the market place is an institution of God and vital to His mission in the world.

      My hope is to educate Christians in the marketplace as to what it means to be missional, that is, how do we orient our market activity along ethical lines that serve advancing God’s Kingdom. I have another excerpt from Eden’s Bridge on the biblical meanings of justice and righteousness that I would post soon that may help move the conversation forward.

      Thanks for reading, commenting, and asking questions. The church has long neglected serious conversation on these topics and I appreciate everyone interested in joining in.

      Dave Doty

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