So we are in an economic crisis of historic proportions. The Obama administration, following treasury secretary Timothy Geithner, is addressing the situation with massive spending. Will the strategy work? Only the most inveterate optimist would think so. It doesn’t take a PhD in economics to recognize that you can’t spend money you don’t have in order to solve a financial problem. Some pundits (including the likes of former Clinton operative Dick Morris) have suggested that Obama actually wants the plan to fail as a pretext for government takeover of the entire banking industry and the final step toward a socialist state. That’s a rather cynical take on the situation, and I pray it’s not accurate. But I’m afraid I can’t rule it out.
But aside from the question of cure—how to solve the mess we’re in—there is the question of cause: How did we get here? While there were certainly failures of government oversight, in the end it boils down to greed and irresponsibility—personal vice. In other words, this national crisis, like most of our problems, is the result of immoral behavior. And even the most ingenious government plan cannot fix the moral faults of the populous. So what can fix America’s moral problems, whether they regard greed in the marketplace, marital infidelity, racism, sexism, abortion, or the evils of pornography? Moral renewal is not something that can be legislated, programmed, or solved through education. Ultimately, it’s a matter of the human heart, and this can only be addressed spiritually. As critical as federal policy is, our current economic debacle is symptomatic of our deeper moral-spiritual crisis. And until we reverse course in a moral-spiritual way, we won’t see any long-term economic cures.
Like many Christians, I believe only significant divine intervention can save us from ourselves. But what form might this take? Perhaps a revival within the church not unlike what happened during the Great Awakening in the eighteenth century. Another possibility is the “no pain, no gain” model, where God allows us to “hit bottom” in order to motivate repentance and the moral seriousness we seem to have lost. An extreme version of this was recently predicted by New York City pastor David Wilkerson who warned about a coming calamity (see his March 7 entry here: http://davidwilkersontoday.blogspot.com/). According to Wilkerson, this is a straightforward case of divine wrath which we deserve because of our extreme rebellion as a nation. Wilkerson’s announcement is particularly stunning because: 1) he’s not a kook or money-grubbing sensationalist but a humble and reasonable pastor who has demonstrated integrity for five decades of ministry and 2) his now famous predictions from the early 1970s were remarkably accurate—a fact that cannot be fully appreciated without seeing how unlikely his prognostications looked from the perspective of someone in the early 70s.
So will Wilkerson’s prophecy be fulfilled? It’s scary to think so, but whether or not we believe him, the category of divine wrath should be taken seriously. Our nation is in state of extreme moral-spiritual rebellion, and we are bound to pay the fiddler, whether this takes the form of natural consequences or special divine wrath. We all need to consider how we can deepen our moral-spiritual commitment through personal repentance and more earnest pursuit of virtue. Just as our national economic crisis is a product of many individual vices, national renewal can result from many individual virtues.