The Scarcity Myth

"God's Antidote for the scarcity mentality is a community radically dependent upon the generosity of God"
Dr. Elizabeth Gerhardt, Northeastern Seminary

There are basically two different paradigms in which influence how we use our resources.  These paradigms have been around for a long time, although most of us are not aware of their existence.

The first paradigm is called the scarcity mindset.  This mindset states that resources (material and immaterial) are extremely limited.  Because they are limited, we must aggressively seize these resources, hold on to them, and protect them so that we can use them for our own purposes.  In the scarcity mindset, we assume that others share this mindset and are equally selfish in their approach to resources.  Due to this assumption, we feel justified in exclusively consuming resources as we are just doing what we need to do to survive (United States, although being 6% of the world's population, consumes over 60% of the world's resources).  Interestingly, most often in the United States, this mindset is mythic.  Do not misunderstand me, there are areas of scarcity as illustrated by grinding poverty, educational inequities, poor health care, etc.  However,  overall, all of these things exist in abundance in America, albeit in tragically inequitable distributions.

One of the powerful roles of community is to offer an alternative to this consumeristic, nihilistic scarcity mentality.  In the Bible, God layed out a plan for community that was based upon sharing of resources, caring for the less fortunate, while welcoming in the alien and the stranger.  This is possible, not because of some fantastic strategy for renewable and sustainable energies and resources, but because sharing was based upon God who not only provides, but is incredibly generous..  From the history of Israel, brought out of slavery with the resources of Egypt, fed daily in the desert with the mysterious manna, brought into the fertile feeds of Canaan,  and given the law, particularly the Sabbath provisions and the celebration of Jubilee to the early church who were described as taking offerings for one another, caring for the poor in the communities around them, and "having no poor among them" due to distribution according to need.  Community was expressed as a means to bless others, based upon the generosity of God.

The Apostle Paul encourages the community at Corinth to give generously to help those in need, knowing that God will also supply their need at the due time.(II Cor 8:13-15).  This is an abundance mindset.  This mindset allows for the redistribution of resources so that those in need will receive what is needed. 

While America is not a theocracy like Israel was, it uses the scarcity mindset to promote injustice.  Take the current federal budget crisis.  One party has proposed reducing services to the poorest and most marginal folks in America due to scarcity.  The assumption is that there are simply not enough resources to support helping the poor, elderly, and the impaired.  You can almost hear it in the voices of the Congressional representatives who feel like they are being moral by being pseudo-fiscally responsible in lieu of truly being morally responsible to take care of those who can not take care of themselves. 

At the same time that our congresspersons are convincing us that we can no longer support headstart for children, grandma's heart and arthritis medicines, or special services for the sight impaired, we pass provisions that allow the obscenely wealthy to pay very little tax and promote a military budget that spends more than the militaries of the next 20 nations combined.  We support policies that create wealth for multi-national corporations that are paying multi-million dollar bonuses to their CEO's while laying off workers.  This is the myth of the scarcity mindset at work.

While I believe that the care of the Earth and the appreciation of natural resources is also an issue of stewardship, it is essential that the people of God  do three things immediately:

1. Communities of Faith must take the lead in living according to the abundance mentality.  We must generously meet the needs of the people and peoples around us, knowing that God will meet our needs as well.

2. Communities of Faith must speak truth to the powers to be.  We can not allow for the injustice of those most vulnerable in our societies based upon the perversion and denial of truth.  Jesus spoke about the true measure of our faith being what ever we do "for the least of these".  He wasn't speaking of just praying for the poor, thinking about the poor, or developing committees who talk about the poor.  He was talking about pragmatically meeting the needs of those most marginalized.

3. Stop allowing the scarcity mindset to justify your inactivity.  While it is true that you can not help everyone, it is equally true that you can definitely help someone.  Faith communities often feel like since they do not have a lot of money that the tremendous problems and the needs of the communities around us are beyond our control.  We must remember our spiritual heritage and recognize that God can do amazing things when we offer the little that we have to bless others (John 6:1-13). 

I pray that today, you will understand the immensity of the immeasurably great God and his gracious generosity.  Its my prayer that this generosity allows you to be the blessing you were created to be.

May God bless you,

Pastor M Traylor
Dr. M TraylorComment