The Economics of Love
It was a hot May afternoon and I was sitting in my last class of my senior year at UC Davis. Our professor had walked us through all the permutations of urban economics. I’d finished the examinations, written my last blue book, and was, like my fellow students, expecting a fairly low-key final lecture. And indeed it started off that way.
Then our professor surprised us.
He said, “I’ve talked with you all quarter about the impact of economics on people, about how it can form and move them, about how Adam Smith’s concept of the “invisible hand” of self-interest can work. But now, in this last lecture, I want to talk with you about something more radical. It isn’t the economics of self-interest. It is the economics of love.”
And he then proceeded to unveil a vision of an economy based on selfless interest, based on giving and sharing, based on mutual love and concern for one’s fellow beings. This was not your typical textbook lecture. It also was not the “from each according to his ability, to each according to his need” Marxism. It was something different. Something spiritually centered. Something based on the Golden Rule.
Some students snickered. Many of us squirmed a little in our seats. But he persisted. And he made us think about economics in completely a new way. For me, it was the best lecture of the year. And I don’t know if that professor ever realized how much I’ve pondered what he said that hot afternoon, now so long ago.
For me now, it brings to mind two different Bible stories that I think illustrate the point he was making.
First is the story from 1st Chronicles that tells how all the people gave joyfully and willingly to fund the building of the first Temple in Jerusalem. King David then said, “…who am I, and what is my people, that we should be able to offer so willingly after this sort? For all things come of thee, and of thine own have we given thee.” (1 Chron 29: 14)
This is a fundamental recognition that all the good we have has its source in God. When we give of that goodness, we are really sharing what God has given us. And He gives us of His goodness without measure. As Psalm 23 says, “my cup runneth over.” All the good we ever see, experience, or embody is His to begin with. He gives it to us, expresses it through us, so that we, as His children, can share it with each other.
This is basic to understanding the economics of Love. And it is illustrated beautifully in the next story.
A religious expert approached Jesus, and quizzed him on what it meant to “love your neighbor as yourself.” (Luke 10:27) So Jesus told him a story about a traveler who falls victim to violence. Jesus tells of two “righteous” people who could have helped, but instead chose not to. Then, a Samaritan – someone considered an outcast, “unrighteous,” at the time – comes along. And he actually “got his hands dirty,” and went down to where the traveler was, patched him up and helped him to a safe place where he paid for the traveler’s care. The Samaritan helped him well beyond just what was necessary. You could say he went the extra mile.
Jesus then asked the legal expert which of the passersby seemed to him to be the true neighbor to the traveler. “The man who gave him practical sympathy,’ he replied. ‘Then you go and give the same,’ returned Jesus.” (JB Phillips, Luke 10)
Jesus was making a vital point about the economics of Love: God gives us all the love we have ever known, felt, or expressed. Just as King David acknowledged all the rich goodness he and his people were happily giving belonged to God, we can rejoice that when we give love by sharing it with others, we are reflecting the Love that is God. It’s not personally ours.
As the Bible says, “We love God because He first loved us.” And as Jesus said: “love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy strength, and with all thy mind; and thy neighbour as thyself.” (Luke 10:27) These are the two greatest commandments and they encompass everything we say or do.
Mrs. Eddy follows up on this thought by saying this “Giving doesn’t impoverish us in the service of our maker neither does withholding enrich us.” Science and Health pg. 31
I knew this all was true theoretically, but, as it so often is, I had to learn the reality of it hard way.
I had spent 3 years living and working in a care facility for the developmentally disabled. While it was rewarding in lots of ways, it was also both physically and psychologically very demanding. So much so that I finally had had enough and I resigned.
This effectively left me both jobless and homeless.
Fortunately a friend let me share his place while I got sorted out. And as a construction foreman, he also helped me get odd jobs here and there. That was a real gift.
And so while I did the odd construction clean-up job, I also applied for job after job and sent out my resume everywhere I could find something even remotely relevant in the want ads. I didn’t get one single response. Not one. It wasn’t all that long before I burned through my hard-won savings.
I actually got to the point where I was living off the vegetables in the garden I’d planted (thankfully!).
But it just kept getting worse. I still had a roof over my head thanks to my friend, but I could tell I was wearing out my welcome there – especially since he was shortly to get married. I’d have to go somewhere else. But where?
One particular day I was really feeling desperate. The construction work had fallen off so I didn’t have any quick prospects of generating income. So there I was, a college-educated guy, sitting there at the kitchen table with a 3rdnotice to pay my phone bill, my rent was due, and all I had was $6. A five and 4 quarters.
I felt like such a loser.
In tears, I reached out to God. I really reached out. I didn’t know what else to do. I just prayed: Father please show me, please please just show me what to do.
And then the oddest thought came to me:
- Give gratitude.
But yes, no matter what else was going on, I could always give God gratitude. I was always free to be grateful. I could always count my blessings, count the way God loves me, and give God gratitude for all that I already did have.
And so right there at that kitchen table, I started by giving gratitude for the phone company. What a blessing their service is! How much I appreciate the service they provide and how wonderful it is to be able to call anyone anywhere in the world because of all the hard work all the phone company people do to make it happen. How easy they make it to just dial a phone and I can call next door or across the country or even to other countries! And all because of their silent unseen hard work that’s blessing me and everyone else who has a phone!
And then it flashed on me that their bill was not something evil or harsh – it was a symbol of all that care and hard work and, yes, even love that they poured into their jobs every day. In fact, their “bill” was actually an opportunity for me to thank them! And to thank them in a very tangible way – by sending them their well-earned payment.
- I was bound and determined right then and there to pay them. Monetarily as well as with heart-felt gratitude!
In fact I realized I could be grateful for every single bill that ever showed up because those bills would give me a chance to be grateful and express that gratitude tangibly by paying them for all that they do! It’s an opportunity to share love tangibly for all those services I was enjoying. It’s an opportunity to participate in the economy of Love.
And then there was a knock at the door.
It was our landlord.
And he wondered if he could hire me to paint his house.
Well, yes of course I said, I’d be glad to paint his house!
And that was the beginning of the turn-around for me. I still had challenges and it took me almost another 9 months before I landed a full-time job again. But I have never again suffered from poverty.
But this experience taught me that God will always answer our prayers no matter what our difficult circumstances.
The Bible says: And we have known and believed the love that God hath to us. God is love; and he that dwelleth in love dwelleth in God, and God in him. (I John 4:16). And Mrs. Eddy writes: “Divine Love always has met and always will meet every human need.” SH 494:10-11
There is an “economy of Love.” Divine Love meets your human needs not by doing something to you but by awakening you to share it and live it and give it as naturally as God does.
We can always turn to God, Divine Love, to discover the Love that is the source of our very being. God is Love. And we are made in His image and likeness. We are made to reflect His Love, to naturally “give it back” as well as to pay it forward. Every day He opens ways for us to live His Love out loud.
And that kind of sharing has nothing to do with a bank account. But it does have everything to do with living the love in your heart and with sincere heart-felt gratitude.
Even for the phone company.
And in my case, especially for the phone company!
by Mark from the Christian Science Society of Encinitas, Ca.