The Economics of Faith

The other day in my Introduction to Microeconomics, my professor made the claim that everyone is self-interested. He explained how this is why markets work, and that through natural selection we have evolved to be selfish. This got me thinking, because he has a point. Selfishness is a huge part of the human condition, but I don’t believe that it always has been and I have faith that it won’t always will.

Sitting in class, I started to think about ways that humans have deviated from self-interest and I think the largest example of this is people’s faith in Jesus Christ. Even if you don’t believe in God, there is no contesting that the Church is by far the largest contributor to charity in the world. I brought this up to my professor, and he responded by saying that religion actually exemplifies self-interest. He said that religion can give people the largest incentive possible, heaven and the largest disincentive, hell adding that most people only kind of believe in their religion. I found this extremely interesting because it gets to the real root of Christianity, and why Jesus Christ is so important.

Yes, there are many religions that contend if you do enough “good” in this world and show up to Church, you will get a ticket into heaven. The bible tells a radically different story and sets a foundation unlike most religions. Ephesians 2:8 says “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith–and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God.” You can’t only sort of believe and be saved; it is by steadfast faith that we are saved. The Christian faith is based off of authentic belief, not works. We are motivated to love others because He loved us first, not because there is some type of Quid Pro Quo with God to get into heaven. We are called to do good works because as James 2:17 states, “faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead.” Furthermore, it is entirely false to say that most people only sort of believe in their religion. People are dying everyday because of their faith in Jesus. In fact, more Christians have died in the last century for their faith than all other centuries combined. My faith in God is the foundation by which I structure the rest of my life, it’s the lens through which I see everything, and it is the very reason I have a will to live. True faith in God involves a total surrender of self.

Even so, it is true that faith and serving others generally makes us feel good. In that sense, religion is self-interested, but it’s important to ask why believing in God and serving others makes us feel good. Helping others feels good because loving others is our chief calling after loving God. Mark 12:30-31 says, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no commandment greater than these.” When we follow Gods direction, we are fulfilled! Having faith is comforting because we are meant to be in relationship with God, this is why Jesus died on the cross. When I think about the human condition, I see such a clear void that only God can fill. Nothing can release us from the cage that sin binds us to but God. Nothing else but God’s grace can empower us to break out of our natural selfish tendencies and become the people that God intended for us to be.

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A Day Without Running Water

Before venturing halfway around the world, I’ve never gone without running water. On a day-to-day basis I just don’t think about water because I have the privilege to assume all the water I drink is clean and never lift a finger to collect water. In the United States, our water is not only easily accessible and clean- it also protects our teeth through water fluoridation. During the first couple days I spent in Uganda, my thoughts on water changed and considerably increased.

Waking up in Uganda, I’d stretch and wearily navigate an exit rout from underneath the mosquito net covering my bed. As I drudged over to my suitcase I grabbed my towel and headed off to take a shower. I knew that the water we used came from a well about 1.5 miles from where we were staying, so I don’t have good reason to explain my surprise of what taking a shower entailed. Opening the wooden gate-like door to the outdoor shower, I peered in to find two jugs of water (one hot and one cold) and a plastic bowl. The shower procedure, I soon learned, was to pour various amounts of the hot and could water into this bowl and dump the water on your self. I never appreciated modern technology that makes running water possible so much until my own hands had to take its place.

After I finished my shower, I set off to complete my next task of brushing my teeth. In addition to water being difficult to access, the water we were able to collect was not clean. I had the luxury of bottled water though, and so I brushed my teeth using that. Using bottled water made me aware of just how much water I can live off of, which surprised me even more than the shower procedure.

Over the course of a half hour that first morning in Uganda, I learned more about my daily consumption of water than all the statics that have been quoted to me. Water is important and clean water is even more important. In many ways, God is like water. He brings life to everything he touches, uplifting us with his grace and love. Sometimes we don’t notice how much the Lord is working in our lives, the ways He is changing our hearts and His beautiful creations because we are caught up in the daily grind. All too often I take the Lord for granted, unaware that it is He who “refreshes my soul. He guides me along the right paths for his name’s sake” (Psalm 23:3).

The Pearl of Africa

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Everything in Uganda seems to be a little bit larger than what I am used to. The bugs are bigger, the grass is higher, and the peoples hearts are so much larger than I’ve ever experienced. Before we even arrived at Josephs’ Home to begin our mission work, virtually the whole town had gathered to greet us. As our dirty and exhausted 16-passenger van pulled in, a swarm of children, teenagers, and adults alike embraced us the minute we opened the side door. By the time I made it to the room I was staying in, I probably hugged over three dozen perfect strangers. This was the first time in my life that I’ve been welcomed into an area with endless, sincere smiles filled with joy and gratitude just for showing up.

A man named Joseph, as you might have guessed, started the ministry that Olive Branch Ministries has taken over since his passing in 2009. Josephs’ Home originally started off as an orphanage of sorts, providing housing and care to needy and neglected children in the rural village, Zzeba. Pastor Joseph valued education highly and did everything he could to give children access to education, even attempting to start his own school. Olive Branch Ministries continues his legacy in caring for and providing the school fees for nearly 37 children, preschool – university students. Each student has either a sponsor or a pen pal that they can look up to and confide in, providing critical emotional support for children as they venture into an entirely new world.

The overwhelming love that the Josephs’ Home community continued to be revealed that Sunday when our team was invited to attend a local church service. The energy and enthusiasm that this community has for God is beyond words. I grew up going to a contemporary church, thinking that they way we were praising God was radical. All of the sudden, everyone was shouting, dancing, and shattering my preconceived notions of the “right” way to worship. There was no silence, only the loud and bold pursuit of relationship with God. There came a point in the service where the team was invited up to share with the congregation a short message about who we were, why we came, etc. As butterflies collected in my stomach right before I got up to speak, I found the answer I had been searching for nearly all summer. I rose from my seat, walked to the center of the room, and delivered to the crowd a short introduction ending with “I have been thinking a lot about how what I can teach you, I now know that I’ve come here to learn.”

It is interesting to consider how spiritually rich this community clearly is when they are physically living in poverty. The United States by contrast, and more severely in the Northeast, seems to have the opposite problem. In a society with all the luxury of modern technology and a reasonably high standard of living, churches are becoming less and less prevalent. This begs the question, who is really suffering?