The Relational Economy: An Introduction
- 2010 22 Jun
It would be quite absurd to tell someone searching for love that the process is—relational. That is called stating the obvious. It would be even more absurd to say to them that the process is an economic one. Yet inescapably there is a relational economy.
I want to suggest that the whole process of human interaction, not just for the single, involves a relational economy. Within this relational economy we make our plea for love, using our very hearts as collateral. If the deal fails, we suffer loss. If the loss is great, we may incur a deficit. If the deficit endures, it may follow us into marriage.
In the relational economy the hope is to spend no more than you can afford, save what should be saved, give with a generous spirit, and catch the occasional bad check before it causes you harm. Whatever we do we do it with all our heart. Whether in word or deed, whether we eat or drink, we do all things in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and for the glory of God the Father (1 Corinthians 10:31, Colossians 3:17, Colossians 3:23). This is the Christian economy and the basis for the Christian relational economy.
The world's market economy is not the same as the Christian relational economy. I wish this were as true as it is obvious but it is not. In the Christian relational economy selling what should be saved is called promiscuity, adultery, or simply unrighteousness. In the world's economy it is called risky but fun. The Christian should understand misspending as squandering what has been given to them in Christ. But too often Christian spending in the relational economy looks no different from the world.
We buy the same things.
We choose the same entertainment.
We judge modesty on the world's sliding scale.
We invest, live, and retire to do the same nothing the world calls "the good life."
This is because even as Christians we tend to invest in the here and now. C. S. Lewis was right when he wrote:
"We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased."
We are not to "store up for [ourselves] treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal" (Matthew 6:19). In other words we are not to invest as the world invests, where the world invests, or even for the same reasons. But this does not translate into currency the world respects. It does not seem to buy us the home we seek, the vacation we desire, or the mate we want.
The Christian relational economy is often just as ruthless, opportunistic, and painful as the world's relational economy—but it should not be this way. "It is a dog eat dog world," they say, but this should not be true in the Christian relational economy.
We are not dealing with merchandise. We are dealing with people; the hearts and minds of brothers and sisters in Christ. We are dealing with souls, precious and eternal, and we are all more than the sum of our physical attractiveness. We are more than the curve of our hips, the curl of our hair, or the tone of our skin. We are not dogs and should not compete as animals, nor should we buy and sell as though eternity were not involved.
None of us should conceive the relational economy as an attempt to "get ours." Such people are called scoundrels. They are the predators we are warned to avoid. It is not "win at all cost." As we do not cheat to get ahead, we do not cheat in the relational economy. We play fair and afford each person the worth they are due.
It makes perfect sense to lie and cheat if winning is all there is, if "getting ours" is all we seek. We might live like this if our strength, good looks, and savvy were all that mattered. But this is a fraction of the picture, a small part of the relational economy.
We KNOW that the Lord owns the bank, and the blood of Christ guarantees all that we invest. So we are not relational tightwads nor are we unwise profligates. Since we live in a fallen relational economy, we are to be discerning and wise. We must "be as shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves (Matthew 10:16). Although the Lord owns the bank, He has entrusted its worth to many who are poor stewards.
Rather than being centered on the Lord's glory and the name of Christ, we are selfish and self-serving. So, while our investment should be safe, we often suffer loss. We often operate with a deficit, and it sometimes takes years to come to terms with our inheritance.
After years of trying to live up to the expensive or warped relational taste of many it may just dawn on you that your Father is a King. So whatever He has is yours. In fact it's your bank. After years of feeling bad for not living up to some contrived standard, you may come to the realization that YOU ARE LOVED. The God of the universe loves you!
You may discover after a time that all those failed relationships you thought made you a failure mean nothing. They were bad checks, but they did not exhaust your account. They mean nothing if He is "working all things" for our good. And indeed, He IS working all things together "for the good of those who love Him, who have been called according to His purpose" (Romans 8:28).
In the world's relational economy you are only as good as your latest score sheet. Your value is measured by how many dates, how many kisses, and how many relationships you have had. To the world it is how much of these things you can accumulate. In their relational economy it is how much experience you have had. Purity is shunned for "experience"—never mind the cost.
In the Christian relational economy we look to benefit from every relationship and not simply to accumulate wealth at the expense of others. The Christian relational economy depends on this very tenuous formula: it is in giving that we receive and it is in dying that we live (Matthew 10:39; Acts 20:35). In the Christian relational economy each of us dies to self in order to give to the other.
Every relationship is to be conducted in a Christian way or not at all. It is the Christian relational economy and no other. Put aside the ideas formed in the world's relational economy for they are mostly given to selfishness.
In all things we spend with eternity in mind. Since the kindness and love we give to ALL those involved in the relational economy should come from the Love HE has given us, we can be big spenders. Love as Christ loved. Love because you are loved.
Hudson Russell Davis was born on a small Island in the West Indies called Dominica, and this is only one reason he does not like cold weather and loves guava. He is a graduate of James Madison University with a B.A. in Graphic Design and earned a Masters in Theology from Dallas Theological Seminary. Currently he is a Ph.D. candidate at Saint Louis University studying historical theology. Hudson has worked as a graphic artist and worship leader but expresses himself through poetry, prose, photography, and music. His activities are just about anything outdoors, but tennis is his current passion. He and his wife Rachel were married in 2009.
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**This article first published on June 22, 2010.