On some days I think ‘God’s economy’ is a better descriptive phrase, but although both ‘economy’ and ‘ecology’ are encrusted with unhelpful connotations, the dictionary definition of ‘ecology’ (the relations of beings to one another and their surroundings) comes closer to what I mean—the way God’s creation actually works, as opposed to the way our flesh would have it work.
My current favorite example comes from Philippians 2:3: “Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves.” Certainly the world doesn’t believe this, And how many times have you heard Christians explain it away, arguing e.g. that we must take care of ourselves first so that we have something to give to others? But the meaning of the text is plain.
I won’t deny that following this principle puts one at a significant disadvantage in a world where everyone else puts themselves first—you give and give as they take and take, with no reasonable expectation that they will give in return. But imagine an alternate world where everyone, believer and unbeliever, put everyone else first. Is life better—for everyone—when we are required to take responsibility for our own interests, in competition with folks whose focus is to defend their interests against ours? Or would it be better to have the whole world looking out for us, at only the cost of looking out for everyone else?
I think we actually live in that second world. I don’t think it’s strong enough to say Philippians 2:3 describes the way things ought to be, or how the Kingdom will be when it eventually comes, or the sort of world we should be working to build as an improvement on this one, or a replacement for this one, or even that it describes the separate, new and different community that Christians experience . Philippians 2:3 describes the here and now, the way things actually are, and problems arise when we deny that reality and choose to act in accord with an ecology of our own imagining.
Even if you’ve been given eyes to see and ears to hear, It’s hard to discern the reality that lies beneath the layers and layers of selfish, deluded thinking we coat it with. But it’s there, and with diligent practice we can improve our spiritual perception. And sometimes it just peeks through anyway, as in this recent post from Seth Godin, where he isn’t speaking as a Christian (I have no idea whether he is a believer) but as someone who knows something about how the world actually works. It’s very short, so I’ll reproduce it in its entirety.
Before you’re asked.
Before she asks for the memo, before the customer asks for a refund, before your co-worker asks for help.
Imagine what the other person needs, an exercise in empathy that might become a habit.
This could very easily be offered, word for word, as pious advice from the pulpit. But in fact it’s a businessman offering highly practical advice on how to succeed in business. And it’s good advice, because that’s the way the world actually works.