August 9, 2011

Re: In God We Trust (Sort of...)

Is it not rather ironic that US currency and coins are inscribed with "In God We Trust" when we live in ways that profoundly contradict that affirmation? A biblical phrase (see Psalms 20, 56, and 62), it was first used on US coinage in 1864 and currency in 1957, shortly after the words "under God" became a part of the Pledge of Allegiance (according to that infallible source, Wikipedia). There has been no little controversy through the years about how this impacts the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment and separation of church and state.

Recent events in Washington and Wall Street demonstrate that human attempts to secure our wellbeing through structures as unstable as the world economy and political frameworks are tenuous. Eyes riveted on the stock-market roller coaster reveal what most really trust. In truth, we trust financial resources much more than the living God. Those with retirement accounts check them more regularly; those with educational loans lament rising costs; those with degrees under their belts scrounge for work, usually settling for a level of under-employment that they had not imagined. We measure our worth by our earning capacity and feel diminished by falling fortunes. Money matters, but as penultimate reality.

Whereas the political slogan "It's the Economy, Stupid" focused an earlier campaign and reminded the nation that fiscal dereliction is dangerous, it was a horribly reductionistic view of humanity. While humans are surely dependent upon systems that sustain livelihood, we do not live "by bread alone" nor are we shackled to insatiable consumption. Part of the freedom we receive in Christ is liberation from concupiscence, that old theological word that means unruly desire. Listening to a morning talk show on NPR about greed, the guest commentator suggested that the law of diminishing return really applies to those with avaricious temperaments. The more one gets, the more one desires. The "perishable bread" of the world's good do not ultimately satisfy.

A holy longing is at the center of human beings, often unnoticed and more often unnamed. We were created for community with God and others; this is the deepest hunger that beckons us. Why do persons spend ever increasing amounts of time on smart-phones or computers establishing levels of connectivity if not for the quest for community? I would submit that placing our trust in God can begin to assuage the pressure of acquisition; recognizing our true longing can begin to address the fiscal sobriety required of faithful people in our day. Simply put, trusting in God is the only security we have in life and in death.

Molly T. Marshall

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