The Biblical Imagination and the Economy? Really?

“Nobody knows. Nobody knows. Nobody knows” — this was the answer, from a smart, savvy friend of mine, to the question of where the bottom is to this awful economic freefall that seems to drag us down so painfully. He said he was quoting lyrics from an old song out of his era. Not very comforting words.

“Nobody knows” — this was his final answer

Will the stimulus package help to resuscitate the economy? Will our credit resources stabilize soon to provide the life-blood for new growth once again? Do people have enough faith in American business to keep their retirement hopes in the stock market? If not, where else do we turn? How soon will jobs feel secure again? How soon will opportunities blossom again for the entrepreneurial, creative spirits among us? How long will it take? — maybe that’s the biggest question on everyone’s mind these days. Is it different this time around?

Nobody knows. What a humbling and frightening assessment.

As I have been thinking about all of this, I am reminded what the great Old Testament scholar Walter Brueggemann says about being boxed in by “fixed conclusions,” those easy answers that are no longer working.

When we find ourselves in this place, just simply stuck, when we feel nobody knows the answers, this is just the kind of moment, Brueggemann says, when we must imagine new ways of living. And where do we turn? There are voices out of our ancient biblical tradition, says Brueggemann, who “not only discerned the new actions of God that others did not discern,” but actually “wrought the new actions of God by the power of their imagination, their tongues, their words. New poetic imagination evoked new realities in the community.”

But what would these “new realities in the community” actually look like? What we find here, says Brueggemann, is an “anticipation of the restoration of public life, safe cities, caring communities, and secure streets. . . . There is anticipation of the restoration of personal and interpersonal life, happy families, domestic well-being and joy, shared food and delighted relationships. Both public and interpersonal life depend on the self-giving action of God who makes newness possible.”

This is the kind of world, these new communities of human flourishing, we must propose to a world gripped by great uncertainty and fear about the future. What if we could equip the next generation of leaders for our world to build this kind of world — where the streets are safe, where people actually care for one another, where community matters, where families are healthy and happy, where we share food and joy and well-being? This will take a lot of work. A lot of savvy. It will take competencies that matter to our world.

I believe the biblical tradition calls us to imagine such a world — it is now our job to roll up our sleeves, to master the skills necessary, and set out to get the job done. Don’t you think?

httpvh://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OLBzjpX7Zo4