In Charles Freeman’s book, “Egypt, Greece, and Rome: Civilizations of the Ancient Mediterranean” he makes this general observation regarding the sustainability of civilizations:
A question which has to be asked of all the civilizations in this book is how surplus was accumulated and used to sustain the civilization discussed.
– Charles Freeman
I cannot, with a clear conscience, recommend this book to anyone. It is a humanities textbook, and not an extremely engaging one. People like Stephen King, Nicholas Sparks, and Sue Grafton don’t write textbooks for a reason…because they desire to be interesting authors. That’s not to say that Freeman’s book isn’t jam packed with information, but it is jam packed like a book of dots, a lot of content not much flavor. But, alas, textbooks are what they are. They are useful in their own way, and like carnival workers, politicians, and talk show hosts they have their odd but necessary place in our world. They are here, if for no other reason, to point out things like the above quote.
What Freeman is saying here is that every group of people, in order to sustain their collective existence in communal order and supportive structure has to account for what they do with the resources that are not required for the current day. Simply explained on a personal level it’s this: what do you do with the money left over after the immediate needs on payday? Obviously some of you are going to say: “what left over?”, and still others, “what pay day? It’s more like bill day!” But even those kind of witty, and at times honest, retorts prove the point in a different way.
One of the most defining features of an orderly system is the confidence in its ability to run “tomorrow”. Could you imagine the chaos and fear that would run rampant in our nation if we were to find out on the 6 o’clock news tonight that there was no more food other than what was in the grocery stores right now? Can you imagine the looting, hoarding, violence, and mayhem that would take place? There would be no civilization anymore as we would have a group of uncivilized survivalists.
So, in a very practical way, we remain a vibrant, active, prosperous, and productive civilization because we have more than we need for today alone. Our surplus is a major factor in our sustainability.
The reason this idea stuck out to me this morning was because of its spiritual application. Paul said this to the members of the Philippian church:
And my God will liberally supply (fill to the full) your every need according to His riches in glory in Christ Jesus.
– Philippians 4:19 (AMP)
We, as citizens of the Kingdom of Heaven, function as a civilization within our own ranks. We are sojourners and travelers on earth currently, but that doesn’t change our true identity or our true connection. And according to the question posed by Charles Freeman, we see our civilization as secure and sustainable because our King never experiences lack and never runs out of resources for both the present and the future. There is no end to our Lord’s riches, and no limit to His generosity. We followers of Christ do not panic when all seems lost and the tangible securities we’ve grown accustomed to slip away or dry up. We are held firmly in the gigantic hand of the biggest, richest, most underestimated and glorious King of all or any time. And not just that, He’s our Dad.
Could it be that our tendency toward fear, or our proclivities toward anxiety, and our downright bent toward a jittery lack of confidence is not based on the economy, the worth of the dollar vs euro, or the crumbling housing market but our lack of time spent looking at God? Could it be that we aren’t nearly as terrified by economic collapse as we are of Divine exhaustion, or perhaps Divine withholding? But we don’t like to say things like, “I don’t know if God will provide” out loud…as if we don’t want to give Him any ideas He might use against us. The downtrodden mood of the church with regard to our national challenges isn’t completely a bad thing, we should be concerned and desire the good of our nation. But, the fatalistic venom that too often gets categorized as ‘concern’ is not based on a desire for good, but on a profound disbelief in the God of the universe.
We fear that there won’t be “enough” tomorrow, but the very fact that there is a “tomorrow” in which we can wake up poor is evidence that there is a loving and benevolent God. We are troubled by our sins, they cause us to worry, but truly the Lord Himself has offered His own blood for the forgiveness of every solitary bit of iniquity. Other examples abound past these two applications. There is no place for panic in the hand of God. Paul told his beloved Philippians just before the above assessment of God’s resources that anxiety is not a requirement for Christ’s followers. I’ve never read it any more beautifully than in the Amplified Version as Paul bolsters and encourages his people:
Do not fret or have any anxiety about anything, but in every circumstance and in everything, by prayer and petition (definite requests), with thanksgiving, continue to make your wants known to God. And God’s peace [shall be yours, that tranquil state of a soul assured of its salvation through Christ, and so fearing nothing from God and being content with its earthly lot of whatever sort that is, that peace] which transcends all understanding shall garrison and mount guard over your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.
Philippians 4:6-7 (AMP)