I recently heard a talk by Andy Crouch where he put forth a framework that supports an abundance mindset, instead of a scarcity mindset. Basically he was positing that with God in the picture, we do not live in a closed system with limited resources, since God is the Creator of all resources. Therefore, we should not grasp onto our resources and power, but share them freely, especially with those who lack resources, since we actually live in abundance, not scarcity. He says this is not a zero sum game.

Of course, there are stories in Scripture that support this. The original Creation story. God creating man from dust. Jesus multiplying the loaves and fishes to feed thousands. Manna from Heaven. Quail. Elisha, the widow, and her jar of oil. Drawing water from a rock. There are also some modern day anecdotes along this vein. Corrie Ten Boom’s story in her autobiography, The Hiding Place, where she describes this medication that didn’t run out when she and her sister were in the concentration camp. I’ve also heard of some missionary somewhere who makes spaghetti for like a hundred people once a week and feeds them from one box of pasta. There’s also Mary Poppins and her bottomless purse.

But I think this is more the exception than the rule in this earthly life. I think that we have natural laws that God put into place, and that God occasionally supersedes them. It’s very, very rare and exceptional.  I think if we look at Earth by itself, it’s generally a closed system with a set amount of resources — this is scarcity. 

I know I’m disagreeing with a Christian thoughtleader, but I still think we live in a resource-constrained world. I deal with it every day, as I consider where to give grants — I have a limited pot of money. I can optimize and be creative about it, but at the end of the day, I have only a certain number of dollars available to me. I think about scarcity when I think of affordable housing. I asked Andy this question about gentrification: the number of wealthy tech professionals who have moved into San Francisco has displaced those who can no longer afford the rising rents. This is scarcity. My very presence in San Francisco means that someone else cannot afford housing in the city. It’s a zero sum game. He answered my question saying that this means we as Christians just need to be more creative about housing policy — higher density housing, more mixed use housing, etc. I feel this answer is simplistic, from someone who doesn’t really understand housing policy — I know a lot of experts and advocates  who care very deeply about the effects of gentrification on the poor, and there might be good solutions and theories out there, but there’s clearly lack of political will or resources to implement them. No offense to Andy, but I looked at his background and he doesn’t seem to have any “real world” experience — he’s mainly been a writer, editor, and campus minister. I think it’s “easy” for him to make the claims that he does, from an ivory tower, and I don’t know that he can speak from direct experience of being in the trenches.

I feel like trying to apply an abundance mindset to our lives on Earth is like trying to convince ourselves that we can have our cake and eat it too. It negates the concept of sacrifice. If we have resources in abundance right here, right now, then it’s easy to give — it’s not a sacrifice.

However, if we take Heaven into consideration as well, it is an open system where there is abundance. We give now, sacrifice now, in this Earthly life, banking on the abundance we will experience in Heaven. We might experience small glimpses of abundance here on Earth, but it’s rare, miraculous, and supernatural. Heaven is where our hope and faith lie. And moreover, regardless of whether we have abundance in the next life, we sacrifice today because it’s the right thing to do, because we see our sisters and brothers suffering and we want to share in that suffering. Isn’t this what it means to take up our crosses and deny ourselves? Mark 8:34-37 says:

Then he called the crowd to him along with his disciples and said: “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me and for the gospel will save it. What good is it for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul? Or what can anyone give in exchange for their soul?

Jesus talks about storing up treasures in Heaven — this is where true abundance lies. But implicit to this is the fact that there’s a tradeoff between treasures on Earth and treasures in Heaven. Matthew 6:19-21 says:

“Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moths and vermin destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moths and vermin do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.