We are living in the most prosperous period in human history. Since the end of World War II more people around the world have enjoyed affluence than ever before.
So why are more young people living in their parents’ basements, literally or figuratively? Why are fewer young people in North America getting married and having children? While older generations are often critical of those who are younger for not “adulting” well, perhaps there are deeper economic reasons for this shift.
Somewhere along the path to prosperity we rounded a corner, and the steady gains seen from the 1950s to 2000 have begun to reverse. A change has transpired, and a rise in the standard of living can no longer be taken for granted. Even the status quo can no longer be maintained, it seems, without governments taking extraordinary financial measures.
But these measures are not without consequences and are not without time limits. When a third of government-issued bonds have negative interest rates, we ought to be concerned that we have reached those limits.
We also need to understand and acknowledge that because of these extraordinary financial measures, our wealth and future financial security is placed squarely on the shoulders of future generations. Our pension plans, our social security systems, our house prices, our stock prices are all built up by the never-ending stream of deficit spending and liquidity injections by governments borrowing from the future. Today’s wealth is being built on the backs of our children and grandchildren, and this makes it hard for them to afford to live, and guarantees their servitude to the economic system.
The Bible warns about the era of Laodicea. In Revelation John wrote a sharp rebuke for the church: “To the angel of the church in Laodicea write: . . . ‘I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot. . . . You say, “I am rich; I have acquired wealth and do not need a thing.” But you do not realize that you are wretched, pitiful, poor, blind, and naked. I counsel you to buy from me . . . white clothes to wear, so you can cover your shameful nakedness; and salve to put on your eyes, so you can see’” (Rev. 3:14-18).
A rise in the standard of living can no longer be taken for granted. Even the status quo can no longer be maintained.
The prophet warns that in this era we will lose the passion for mission that God called us to. We will feel that we are wealthy in the things of this world and have no sense of our real deficit, both material and spiritual. We don’t recognize our true financial condition, or the broader economic condition of the world.
In the past seven decades we have become increasingly materialistic and worldly, losing our sense of purpose. We have become increasingly comfortable on this earth. In developed nations people have amassed wealth and comforts unimaginable a century ago. Those who live in the developing world are striving to catch up and attain the same standards, even though the dangers and “debt traps” of affluence seem quite apparent.
This era of Laodicea is understood to be a period in the church’s existence near the end of time and describes the spiritual condition of Christians. The world around Laodicea comprises an economic system that is designed to draw in and trap God’s people into financial servitude by giving an illusion of wealth, happiness, freedom, and contentment.
Our modern economic system creates a mirage of prosperity, yet we scratch and claw our way toward it as if it were real.
Perhaps we can coin a new term: Laodeconomics, the economics of the Laodicean era. An economic system that makes God’s people into unwitting prisoners, that keeps them not only focused on worldly things, but so tied up financially that we keep straining toward a mirage that turns out to be dust in the end.
Laodeconomics, the spiritual condition of Laodicea (lukewarmness), is characterized by inattentiveness to spiritual matters, and by a form of godliness that denies God’s power over our lives; and makes us lovers of pleasure more than lovers of God.
Ellen White wrote about Satan’s effort to mislead God’s remnant people in the last days. “As the people of God approach the perils of the last days, Satan holds earnest consultation with his angels as to the most successful plan of overthrowing their faith. . . . ‘We can separate many from Christ by worldliness, lust, and pride. They may think themselves safe because they believe the truth, but indulgence of appetite or the lower passions, which will confuse judgment and destroy discrimination, will cause their fall. Go, make the possessors of lands and money drunk with the cares of this life. Present the world before them in its most attractive light, that they may lay up their treasury here, and fix their affections upon earthly things. . . . Make them care more for money than for the upbuilding of Christ’s kingdom and the spread of the truths we hate, and we need not fear their influence; for we know that every selfish, covetous person will fall under our power and will finally be separated from God’s people.’”*
God’s remedy for Laodicea was to buy eye salve so that they could see, and white raiment to cover their nakedness. But part of Laodicea’s problem is that they are unable to see their true condition.
So what is God’s solution? “Those whom I love I rebuke and discipline. So be earnest and repent. Here I am! I stand at the door and knock” (Rev. 3:19). When God rebukes and chastens Laodicea, He may use the same method He has used time and again: a famine or financial crisis. God has often used economic crises to regain the attention of His people who have drifted away. The Bible points to economic disasters in the last days, disasters that may be God’s ultimate effort to extricate His people from the system of Laodeconomics and from the condition of Laodicea.
As we look at today’s global economy, many challenges and much turmoil seem to be building and converging toward one gigantic calamity. From overindebtedness, financial bubbles, trade wars, currency wars, and the potential for real shooting wars, the world appears to be on edge. We have built our world on an economic foundation that relies on an ever-continuing growth in spending.
Globally, in the past 10 years we have tried to maintain that growth with more than US$60 trillion in stimulus spending, which, in effect, is just borrowing from the future on the backs of our children and grandchildren. Growing strife, financial volatility, and protectionist sentiments are symptoms of the global economic system nearing its ultimate breakdown. Yet most of those who live in the world, including Adventists, continue to act as if everything is normal. Many may receive a rather stark wake-up call.
But if we are living in the time of the end, and all of this turmoil is just a prelude to even greater financial and physical calamities, what should our response be? We Adventists believe and hope for the soon coming of Christ. What should we do?
Some may argue that we ought to live our lives the same, regardless of when Jesus returns. Others may become the Christian equivalent of “preppers,” those who stockpile resources to survive calamities. In my role as an investment manager, I’m often asked how we should invest our money if we think the end is near, or if we should invest at all.
The key question is not “How should we invest?” but “How do we want to use our money in the future?” What are our financial goals, and how do we want to use our savings when the time comes?
By knowing our future plans, we can more effectively prepare for today. Our spending habits, savings plans, and investment programs will
all be guided by our desired outcomes for the future.
So what are our plans? Are we looking to raise or maintain our standard of living? Are we seeking a comfortable retirement to enjoy pleasures of this world? Are we seeking to make ourselves useful in gospel ministry? Are we helping our extended families to be financially secure to serve God? Do we feel the sense of responsibility to help others break free from the financial traps set before them?
There is a growing divide worldwide between the haves and the have-nots. Unfortunately for many, both young and old, making ends meet is becoming a greater challenge. Saving for the future seems impossible. Whether this is because of our current circumstances, past choices, or unfortunate timing, many find their situations difficult and getting worse. The mirage of financial security is receding further into the distance, even as people’s desperation grows deeper.
God always responds to our sincere prayers for help, but we have to be willing to make the changes that God suggests. His remedies may range from becoming more disciplined in our daily living, perhaps making sizable shifts in our lifestyle, to more radical changes in our circumstances.
How do we know what we should do? Honest introspection is needed to see our true status and recognize the leading of God’s Spirit. Are we just getting by in our Christian life, or are we motivated by God’s mission? We may have to ask a key question: Am I able to serve God better in my current circumstance?
Most of us can probably get by with a lot fewer material things. Reducing expenses and living simpler lives may be key for us. Not only will this have financial benefits, it may make us happier and healthier and result in better relationships with our families, friends, and neighbors. Ultimately, if we seek more opportunities to grow our financial faith and partnership with God (stewardship), we will be guided into more purposeful and meaningful lives. We can break free from the system of Laodeconomics.
* Ellen G. White, Testimonies to Ministers and Gospel Workers (Mountain View, Calif.: Pacific Press Pub. Assn., 1923), pp. 472-474.
Tim Aka is an associate treasurer of the General Conference, where he serves as director of investments.