Business and Idolatry

I have to say Andy Crouch has encouraged me to think about the relationship of business and idolatry. Crouch is not the first to connect business with idolatry. Jesus stated we cannot serve God and mammon, so the connection between business and idolatry has been well documented. But Crouch got me thinking about this in another way.

Jayakumar Christian, the director of World Vision in India, is quoted by Crouch as saying “The poor are poor because someone else is trying to play God in their lives.” The context of this quote involves the bonded labor issue in India. Crouch reinforces Christian’s comments with “Poverty and persistent injustice were signs that some person or group of people had played god in the life of another person or group.” The person who is taking advantage of another is becoming an idol to another because they have that other person’s life in their hands.

An idol, according to Crouch, makes two simple promises, “You shall not surely die, and you shall be like God.” Obviously these are the words of Satan to Adam and Eve in the garden. You shall not surely die, is a “promise of life apart from God.” So my application of business and idolatry applies here. If we think we can run a business apart from God, or more accurately apart from his natural law, then we have drunk the kool-aid. Oh it is just business, does not bode well. How does God want me to run my business? That is the all important question.

Crouch states, “Idolatry is, in fact, the result of a curious hybrid of power and powerlessness.” On the powerful side the reality of mankind being image bearers allows for the temptation to think we can be gods by controlling others lives. And on the powerless side there is this horrible vulnerability. They are able to be exploited. Therefore as one begins to exploit another there is a loss of humanity and image bearing.

King David made a very interesting comment about idols. Idols are different from the true and living God. Idols don’t have mouths, so they can’t speak; they don’t have ears, so they can’t hear; and they don’t have eyes, so they can’t see. Really what use are they, but those who worship them become like them. There is a loss of divine image, and, as a result, a loss of humanity. Pimps that exploit women, slave traders that exploit bonded workers, and even some managers who exploit the people that work for them, such as Wal-Mart, lose their reflection of God as they become like the idols they serve, money and power.

The very thing the idols promised to give fails in the end and those that worship those idols become like them. Crouch describes this injustice as “The moneylender, who delivers less and less while demanding more and more until eventually he gives nothing and demands everything.” God does hate this because of the loss of His true essence in the world.

Look at our society today. It is a world filled with false images of God. A friend of mine wrote a book called “The Imaginary Jesus.” In that book he searches throughout Portland to find the true representation of Jesus among all of the incorrect representations. There is a warning in Romans about turning the truth of God into a lie. We see this happening everywhere, but specifically in business there is a rationalization that says it is ok to take advantage of the situation because it is good business.  But you know what, if one wants to create social and economic value then one should follow what God has to say.

You may ask is anyone making money with a business model based in scriptural principles? Last Friday I took a group of students to Leopold and Stevens. It is a scope manufacturer in Beaverton. It is a successful business that employees 700 people with a turnover rate of around 2%. The employees looked happy, and according to their management, they pay their employees well, with health benefits, and a retirement plan. This is where image bearing plays out. No exploitation, but a living out of the natural laws of God by being reasonable.

Wal-Mart is an example of idolatry. It is the picture of a business system that perpetuates the loss of humanity in the search of low prices. Whereas Leopold and Stevens represent what is possible if one follows the principles associated with human dignity. Many mottos come to mind at this point, such as Doing well, while doing good, or business with a heart. But that fact is, regardless if one is a believer or not, God’s natural law applies. There is a way that seems right to a man, but leads only to death in the end. If one worships the idols of success and exploitation, then that person will become like their idol and lose their image bearing capability. And those that follow God’s timeless principles will create social and economic value.

And that is my thought for the day!


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