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19 October 2012

The myth of scarcity

The myth of scarcity

We live in an age of austerity, so the media and politicians keep reminding us. This was underlined again last week at the Conservative Party Conference by George Osborne who announced another £10 billion to be cut from the welfare budget in addition to the £18 billion already taken out of the system.

Scarcity is the theme for the time. We don't have as much as we did so we have to make adjustments and cut our cloth accordingly. The future feels bleaker than it did. With the economy weaker and with Europe causing more and more anxiety, it's easy to see life as a threat. There's simply not enough to go around, so we have to organise, control, hold on to what we have and let the strongest survive.

Walter Bruggemann, the Old Testament scholar, calls this the myth of scarcity - a myth because the Bible describes life not as a threat but a blessing, a rich wonderful abundant ever-replenishing force in the universe. He labels this the Liturgy of Abundance, a paradigm that understands God as creating a world that has fruitfulness, vitality and growth in its very DNA. The Psalms sing out their praise to the God of creative flourishing. Abraham leaves his land in search of a land flowing with milk and honey and a multitude of descendants. When the Israelites faced their time of austerity in the wilderness the abundant God brought down manna from heaven. Jesus came as the life-generating force from God, bringing healing, restoration and infinite love.

The disciples, faced with a crowd who have been listening to Jesus all day, realise there isn't enough food to feed them and ask that they are allowed to go back home. This is the paradigm of scarcity. We don't have enough so we must make plans. Jesus stands in the opposite paradigm and asks them what they posses? When the answer is a small amount of bread and a couple of fish, he takes what they have and gives thanks for it before God and suddenly it becomes more than anybody believed possible. It feeds the crowd and leaves behind 12 overflowing baskets.

When you believe life is limited, with only so many resources to go round then you naturally hold on to what you have, you grasp and hoard and defend. It's an ugly place to live, with fear and anxiety at its heart. But if you believe life is unlimited, abundant and providential then you can respond with a grateful heart for the bread we receive each day knowing there will be more bread just around the corner. We can give and bless others and take care of those who are the most vulnerable, knowing that true compassion knows no limit, it has no fatigue element. Stewardship then replaces control, where we take responsibility to make sure the resources are allocated in fair and just ways, but always knowing that we bring our small offering of loaves and fish. It's simply what we have, and the force of abundance adds to those humble gifts and multiplies them.

We need to challenge our propensity towards anxiety, believing that life is out to get us. We need to trust again in the God of harvest time, the providing abundant force in the universe. The future, as Daniel O'Leary in Passion for the Possible tells us: "is a mother waiting for us with outstretched arms, and a father who is crazy about our freedom and our fulfillment and longs only for us to let him love us".

Roger Sutton, England Ambassador for the Evangelical Alliance and leader of the Gather movement.