Enough for All
IN her paper, Transform Nation Agenda – Economic Sufficiency and Justice, HO SUI-JADE explores the issue of economic sufficiency and justice within the cultural dynamics specificities of Malaysia. She highlights the damaging effects of poverty on society, what Scriptures say about the Church’s role and responsibility in ensuring economic sufficiency for all, and proposes strategies that the Church could adopt towards bringing about economic sufficiency. This is an extract of her paper. The full article will be available in the upcoming NECF Forum VI book released by the NECF Malaysia Research Commission.
Economic life in all its ramifications is of profound ethical significance. This is so because of scarcity which gives rise to conflict, because of interdependence which creates mutual obligations, because of the wide range of values sought through economic activity, and because of the significance for human life of the economic process itself.
– Howard Bowen1 –
As heirs of the biblical prophet Micah who summons us “to act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God” (Micah 6:8) and disciples of our Jesus Christ who told us “for I was hungry and you gave me some-thing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink...I needed clothes and you clothed me… Whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me” (Matt. 25:35–40), we realise that the concern for the poor is at the very heart of God.
It is said that one of the greatest scandals in the world today is the growing gap between the rich and poor, both at the international level and within individual countries.
Indeed, historically, this trend has been prevalent since time immemorial. Members of society have commonly been divided according to their wealth status as the ‘haves’ and ‘have-nots’.
In Scripture, economic concerns and acts of justice are woven intricately together. At the heart of this witness is the call to Jubilee, a call first, to acknowledgement that the world created by God is abundant with enough for everyone, as long as mankind restrains his appetite and lives within limits. Situations of extreme economic insufficiency in pockets of society are not natural but the product of sin with man turning against the biblical mandate of caring for the poor. Hence, the second call to Jubilee is a call to redemption – to rectify serious deprivations in the socio-economic order and to set forth the mandate for spiritual renewal and faithfulness to the Lord.
On all account, the question on economic sufficiency and justice is increasingly pertinent in our local context, not least driven by the need to listen to the cry of the oppressed, to be present in the pulse of the world by bearing and living the Good News; but increasingly also due to the shifting in the local political and economic tectonic plates amidst greater uncertainties in the global economic and financial front.
Through discerning the ‘signs of the times’, the key in addressing questions on economic sufficiency lies in the threat to our global environment and its inner connection to the consumerist ethos of our economic system.
Globally, economics has departed from the root meaning of the term oikonomia2: the management of the household in a manner concerned for the long-term relationship of the household with the environment itself. The desired outcome of a healthy economy is one underpinned by good stewardship.
Unfortunately, by advocating an unending pursuit of higher levels of economic growth, classical economics has functioned as if natural resources were unlimited and it would be acceptable to adopt a ‘benign neglect’ approach on the impact of human work on the environment and other people.
In this reckless pursuit for wealth, the “good news for the poor” has been widely translated to mean “bad news for the rich.” This underscores the zero-sum logic, a pervasive claim that goes against the very grain of the proclamation of Jubilee and runs far and deep into the structure and psyche of society. In a sense, there is a role for collective responsibility as we consider this as the most pervasive spiritual problem of our time.
Economic insufficiency is propagated, in part, by this sense of resource scarcity and thus, the need to grab as much as one can, as fast as one can, condemning thousands of millions of our sisters and brothers to extreme poverty and hundreds of millions to wealth. Both extremes are deprived of their fundamental humanity, although in different ways.
As Malaysia celebrated its Jubilee year in 2007, this issue is timely to encourage and mobilise Malaysian Christians to continue to pursue nation-building agenda that would further His Kingdom’s work in bringing “good news to the poor.” This would involve both the proclamation of the good news and greater involvement in active works of redemption.
Despite the economic accolades that our nation has achieved since independence, there are still 325,000 poor households in Malaysia; hence we must ask: Why are there still about one million poor people in Malaysia?3 What would it mean for Malaysian Christians to take a more deliberate and concerted step to act on behalf of our sisters and brothers who suffer under economic deprivation? More urgently, what is the cost of not acting?
An agenda for nation transformation, needless to say, cannot be an annual project alone. It is not even a five-year project. The economic woe that has cut through the artery of every political, economic and even religious paradigm would likely persist throughout and beyond our lifetime.
Nonetheless, as economists, politicians, philosophers, ethicists and theologians continue to contemplate on the intricacies of the causes and effects of poverty, we as disciples of Christ, could do well to meditate on Jesus’ answer to John’s question, “Are you the one who was to come, or should we expect someone else?”
Jesus replied, “Go back and report to John what you hear and see: The blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cured, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is preached to the poor” (Matt. 11:5).