Scarcity vs. Flourishing…

Our understanding of life’s narrative and viewing it from a vantage point of scarcity vs. flourishing has far-reaching implications. Our vantage point is very telling, but also self-fulfilling, which I believe we have witnessed throughout history. These implications continue today – as if we haven’t deeply learned history’s lessons. In many ways, this view of scarcity vs. flourishing can be seen as a view of urban vs. rural or more pointedly a view of the Original Author vs. The Revisionist – but very few will want to see it that way.

Regardless of how you look at it, the realities that I want us to face in this post are the same:

  • Archeology proves that the mightest of civilizations have been surprisingly ceased.
  • Agrarian societies are witnessed from our earliest histories.
  • Why have large tracts of land been rendered useless, and uninhabitable in our day?
  • Why the vision of a densely populated city and its sprawling suburbia?
  • Why the view of the surrounding countryside that is largely seen as a resource to enjoy, exploit and ultimately abandon?
  • What is mankind’s role in relation to the land?
  • Why have we left the rural areas and fled to the urban centers?
  • Is our world hemorrhaging from mankind’s misunderstanding of their role?
  • The curse of urban sprawl is real.
  • Suburbia grows ever larger, feeding on the city like a parasite.
  • Mankind continues to struggle to understand their identity, purpose, and calling.

In all of this, we can find that one’s view of our role in the stewardship of the earth is a very telling story. And as I have begun to unpack this with more and more people, the conversation tends towards a mindset of scarcity, not flourishing. Have we ever taken the time to consider what creates, perpetuates, and fuels a mindset of scarcity? Conversely, what would form, mature, and strengthen a perspective of flourishing?

In this article, I want to propose the idea that there has always been only one narrative. It was given to us by a single author, who I refer to as the Master Craftsman – the one who created and sustains all things. His narrative has been passed down since the beginning of time both in oral tradition and written form. Ironically, it is a narrative that includes a Revisionist, who at every turn attempts to usurp the storyline. From the beginning and even up until today mankind can still hear him whispering and twisting the plot with these simple words, “Did God really say…”.

So let’s think this through a bit, specifically with how it pertains to mankind’s role in the stewardship of the earth. What motivations are behind the initiative that has produced the “100 most resilient cities of the 21st century“? After you’ve spent some time studying their website ask yourself, “Does their narrative of urban resilience reveal a mentality of scarcity or flourishing?” Listen to how they define their initiative very closely…

Urban resilience is the capacity of individuals, communities, institutions, businesses, and systems within a city to survive, adapt, and grow no matter what kinds of chronic stresses and acute shocks they experience.

100resilientcities.org

Scarcity

If our perspective on the narrative is one of scarcity, then one approach is to believe tasked with the responsibility to champion the preservation of the precious and limited resources of the earth. With this mentality comes a “no matter what” tunnel vision that blindly accepts chronic stresses and acute shocks. One can only imagine the set of operational directives that are spawned out of this way of perceiving the narrative which you and I live in. I don’t want to get to lost in the weeds here, but I think you can see my point. Our efforts of condensing mankind into well ordered, tightly organized cities that are correctly-governed is seen as good and right. Enough so that the Rockefeller Foundation sees this as a promising and hopeful future and has invested heavily in this initiative.

In initiatives like this one, it is of utmost importance to “help cities prepare for and thrive amid physical, social and economic uncertainties.” Statistically speaking 40% of the earth’s population lived in an urban center in the 1990s. By 2010 that statistic had grown 10%! It is forecasted that by 2030 it will have grown another 10% – and by 2050 it’s assumed it will be 70%. If that’s not shocking enough, consider the World Bank’s World Development Report 2009, which revealed that “95% of the world’s population is concentrated on just 10% of the world’s land.” In the past eleven years, things have only continued to condense.

Doesn’t this seem strangely opposite of narrative consistently established in the Bible?

I believe we are created by design to be stewards of God’s creation. And what I’m simply trying to point out is that a perspective on the narrative which holds this view of scarcity and preserving what little we have is a very telling mindset. It is derived out of logic and reasoning which doesn’t find its roots in the Author of the narrative, but in the Revisionist who is seeking to undermine the glory and excellences which the Master Craftsman created.

Scarcity can also cause mankind to become driven to exploitation and imperialistic conquests, instead of the more community-minded, future generational preserving mindset explained above, but since this post is already super long, I’ll save that for another time.

Flourishing

In the opening chapter of Genesis, our attention is drawn to perceive a world that is marked by its ability to reproduce after its kind. At the close of chapter one, we come to understand that mankind is endowed with this same amazing ability. But what I find even more telling, is what some have come to know as the cultural mandate that mankind was given by the Master Craftsman the commission to go and be fruitful and multiply to fill the earth and subdue it.

“the vessel he was making of clay was spoiled in the potter’s hand,
and he reworked it into another vessel, as it seemed good to the potter to do.”
Jeremiah 18:4

The potter and the clay

When the biblical narrative starts out, the Creation story in Genesis 1 & 2 describes a vibrant, abundant, and multiplying creation. But then in chapter 3, we see at the center stage (seemingly out of nowhere another main character is nowhere) the Revisionist and his retelling of the story and mankind accepts this revision and their view becomes horribly marred. Strange and unfamiliar desires latent within them are awakened to see the world through a different set of lenses represented by the tree of good and evil. A new but very different vision of what could be is now seen. Is it ironic that it reveals itself as very pleasing to the eye, good to eat, and full of the potential that could make one wise?

Excited to see the new things that life can now hold, mankind takes and eats of that fruit fascinated by the vision portrayed by the Revisionist. But their eyes are opened… to a world of death, not life; shame not honor; scarcity, not flourishing; hardship, not worship. Our newfound wisdom reveals a world of vanity and deception, not humility and truth. At every turn in the story, this appears to be a world where men set themselves up against the knowledge of God. The Revisionist smiles… the Master Craftsman weeps. But he weeps not for their choice as much as for the season that has now come upon the earth. Already he can hear the groaning by which everything that he has made has now been subjected to endure. As a craftsman, what a painful thing to see His glory that He placed into His work, exchanged for another. Now in their head, heart, and hands, they would behold a useless idol in which there was no profit – only endless striving.

The imagery can’t be denied in the very next scene. Looking around everything appears to be the same, but nothing feels right. Suddenly they hear a familiar sound, but it brings fear and shame. The Master Craftsman is walking in the garden in the cool of the day. Typically they would have run to Him but not today, not now. Now nothing seems right. They feel naked and ashamed and as they hide they frantically seek to cover themselves. The plants that they were cultivating and keeping they now ravage their leaves to cover themselves… their evil desires have been exposed. Will things forever be changed?

The Marring Revealed

What’s about to happen reveals the far-reaching implications of the scarcity narrative. Adam and Eve had believed a lie, and they were still believing it. The Revisionist had sowed the seed that God was keeping something from them that was holding them back from an even better life. They had agreed that they wanted their eyes opened so that they could be like God. They wanted access to knowledge that they did not have. The desire that had been awakened within them was now fully alive. What I find more telling was their relationship with the story that God had been unfolding was now strangely and deeply corrupted. They assumed that God’s narrative was now meaningless, unable to create and sustain life, and their hope rested on the words of the Revisionist.

When they hear the voice of their maker call out Adam’s name, their responses are so common to us today that we quickly pass over them without much of a second thought. While it might seem totally natural to us today, there was a time when this was so strange it would have never entered the heart or mind. And even if they had, these words would have been put to death before they ever had been spoken, never allowed out into the open market of ideas. But now they believe the lie, so what happens next had actually never been heard before. Did Adam’s own voice sound strange his own ears or those of his wife? What wisdom was this that caused him to dishonor his wife? How had he become so bent and disfigured in his thinking? What had never dawned on them, now seems like such a tangible thought, “I hope that He doesn’t see my nakedness. I’m so ashamed.”

Like all the other Adams that come after him (except for one), he makes excuses and seeks to relieve himself of responsibility. He would have done anything at that point to remove himself from the spotlight, the Lord’s gaze was like an all-consuming fire. Therefore, it shouldn’t surprise us that Eve follows her husband’s shame-filled example, with very similar tactics, and points this… shame and condemnation… upon someone else. This is not my fault, it’s all because of the Revisionist – he made me do it. The Revisionist takes a bow with an “easy as pie” smirk on his face. And so it all begins, the backdrop and props for their new life have been arranged and the revealing lights of the stage come up. It certainly doesn’t look good for the story that God is telling.

Hope is not lost

One would have to assume that paradise has been dealt a deadly and decisive blow. What started out looking so promising, was now looking more like a train wreck. Is there still a way for Adam and Eve to flourish in the Master Craftsman’s narrative? Was there a way through, and even beyond, this marring? Was the narrative of creation’s flourishing (in their ability to have offspring and produce new life, and in their ability to subdue and have dominion over creation) now out of their reach?

As the Master Craftsman speaks life back into the narrative, the error of their way is dealt with and the consequences that they will have to endure are explained. It contains admonishments and rebukes, but it also contains encouragement, edification, and training. His words are rich in the language of redemption. God is not surprised, but revels in the opportunity for the clay to be reformed now that it understands its own weaknesses and the foundational truth that He is the potter and we are the clay.

Was this something that Adam and Eve would have ever expected? The Master Craftsman’s themes of judgment, wrath, grace, mercy, and justice which were planted into the soil come springing to life and the Master Craftsman begins to reform the clay which is Adam & Eve. I really appreciate Adam’s response to these “tender new shoots” in the narrative. Adam believed the story and named his wife Eve because she was the mother of all living. Offspring was now important – it was part of the Master Craftsman’s narrative of redeeming what is marred. Throughout the Bible, we’re given what seems like meaningless genealogies, but they trace a lineage from Adam and Eve to Mary and Joseph whom the Master Craftsman used to reveal His completed redemption story. His name was Jesus.

Jesus, the Second Adam

When Jesus came he taught that abundant life was what He was offering to mankind. He referred to the Revisionist as a thief when he said, “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly.” This teaches us two great principles that have been in play since the beginning of time. The first is that seeing the Master Craftsman’s narrative through the lens of scarcity ends in death – a world where stealing, killing and destroying are prevalent and the only hope is to preserve as much as possible to hold off the inevitable or to exploit as much as possible and attempt to gain the whole world. The entity behind this pseudo-reality, Jesus revealed, is not a “good” revisionist, but a thief.

he ultimate reality of seeing the Master Craftsman’s narrative through the lens of flourishing reveals abundant life. This is a world where things, in submission to the potter, multiply in beautiful harmonious abundance because mankind has properly been stewards of creation that God has given to him to subdue. This is the glorious hope of a world

We are products of the narrative that we live in.
Whether it’s a narrative of scarcity or flourishing,
depends on who is telling the story.
Are we listening to the Original Author or the Revisionist?

As I have considered the narrative of flourishing, I remembered a story Jesus told to people to remind them of the truth in the narrative in which they were living. If history has demonstrated anything, it is that we are products of the narrative that we live in. It’s so good to have reminders from time to time of the storyline that we’re living in – what we believe to be true about ourselves, and the world we live in. These things deeply shape us. Our every thought, desire, and action are derived from this understanding of the narrative. Consequently, the Revisionist knows this and instinctively sets out to deceive, derail, and destroy. He believes that He can rewrite history not understanding that all things have already been created and in the Lord’s time He will reveal them – even the Revisionist himself is subject to the potters making. We can see this in the Master Craftsman’s narrative here.

It’s intriguing to discover in the story that Jesus shares, that the Master entrusted his property to three different servants – but it was a stewardship, not an inheritance. He gave to each one according to their own ability (take note that he inherently knew what they were capable of) and declared to them that he was going on a journey. On the front end, there’s no mention of how long the Master would be gone. So it’s somewhat surprising to the reader that after a long time he finally returns. Was it surprising to the servants as well? When he returned each one was called upon to give an account of what they had done with what they had been entrusted with. Two of the servants had taken what they had been given and had caused it to flourish – they were richly rewarded for their stewardship. But the third servant had taken what had been given and buried it trying to preserve what little he thought he had. He had believed a wrong view of the Master. Instead, he had believed the Revisionist lie of scarcity and hid it. You should look it up and see how the story ends, it’s an eye-opener!

I find myself asking…

It’s time we reconsider this much larger context of the Gospel narrative and pose the questions which I believe arise naturally out of it. I believe that His narrative of flourishing has way more insight into the world we’re living in today than we ever imagined.

  • What would it look like for all the families of the earth to take God’s design laid out in the creation story as a serious narrative that they too should live out?
  • Was it God’s directive to be “fruitful-multipliers” who decentralize themselves and spread out and fill the earth and cultivate and keep it as good stewards to ensure that it flourished? Is this what we’re doing? What does our short history demonstrate?
  • What if we were confident that being fruitful and multiplying and filling the whole earth was not only viable and sustainable but was even flourishingly profitable?
  • Why have we presumed that something God blessed us with – this ability to be “fruitful-multipliers” – is not a good narrative to follow and that we should greatly limit our childbearing? And what have been the implications? (I believe this is the greatest sign of our scarcity mentality)
  • What if the supply and demand in God’s narrative is actually a harmonious economy by his design?
  • When God sent His Son Jesus Christ to seek and to save that which was lost, how did this affect our ability to proclaim a narrative that redeems and restores a life of flourishing on the earth?
  • Do you see how Jesus is a second Adam – the new/original cultivator and keeper of creation?
  • What if each family was to spread out across the earth to leverage the max potential of the creation they were given to steward? What would that require?
  • How long can we continue to get more and more compacted in cities and continue to reject God’s cultural mandate? Consider what this requires?
  • What if at the heart of businesses there was a DNA to love and serve others well, causing others to flourish in their role stated in the cultural mandate? What types of things would these businesses be doing? List possible products and services.
  • What about this post seems strangely opposite of the human trajectory that has played out in our history?
  • In what ways have you seen mankind attempt to live according to the story of the Revisionist? versus the Original Author who I refer to as the Master Craftsman?
  • What if governments, organizations, enterprises, communities, families, and individuals all rallied around the narrative of flourishing within and because of God’s designed order?
  • What if this narrative of scarcity is the reality of rejecting and rebelling against what God created and listening instead to the Revisionist?
  • Is the role of the church similar to the role of Eve? What does it look like when we view the Church as the Second Eve?
  • Like the first Eve, what if the Church has believed the Revisionist, abdicated its purpose, and actually ignored its role in equipping saints for thier God-given work flourishing?
  • How has the Church continued to be controlled by the scarcity of the Revisionist?
  • Paul described the whole earth as groaning. Could this be changed and the earth caused to rejoice because the Second Adam and Second Eve have lived in a proper union and only listened to the Original Author’s narrative of flourishing?
  • How does Isaiah 48:17 stand as a beacon of light proclaim that in God’s time He has already made all things beautiful?

I realize that these questions are “leading the witness” and telling of my view. It’s not my intention to make you feel like we’re on trial. Although I do believe that these are weighty issues that our society needs to address and a very real and clear decision about the narrative needs to be made. I think we all understand that it will require repentance. If I knew of a better way to provoke new action I would certainly do it. I believe it’s high time we consider the Original Maker – the Author – and listen to the narrative that the Father, Son, & Holy Spirit have told and are continuing to proclaim in all of creation. It’s one that they have declared to us and instructed us to join them in proclaiming. God does have a wonderful plan for all of our lives – one that gives great hope and an eternal future.

Closing thoughts and prayer

Let me close with this thought taken from Eugene Peterson’s book A Long Obedience In The Same Direction: Discipleship in an Instant Society. I was reading it this morning and was amazed at how closely it mirrors this vantage point of the narrative. It says, “Our lives are lived well only when they are lived on the terms of their creation, with God loving and us being loved, with God making and us being made, with God revealing and us understanding, with God commanding and us responding. Being a Christian means accepting the terms of creation, accepting God as our maker and redeemer, and growing day by day into an increasingly glorious creature in Christ, developing joy, experiencing love, maturing in peace. By the grace of Christ we experience the marvel of being made in the image of God. If we reject this way, the only alternative is to attempt the hopelessly fourth-rate, embarrassingly awkward imitation of God made in the image of men and women like us.”

Would you join me in prayer?

Lord, we have listened to the Revisionist yet again. Thousands of years of marvelous unfolding history and yet we still see something sweeter than what you have told us. May it be your narrative that is the only delight to our eyes…

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