Wednesday, October 15, 2008

So Who Really Knows How To Fix Wall Street?

Almost anyone who has a 401(k) or owns at least a single share of stock knows that things are a little out of control at the moment.

But that’s okay, because the people on the television news keep telling us exactly what must be done to fix Wall Street. They’ve been telling us for the last two weeks, each night, and their suggestions are usually implemented in the following days. Funny thing, though, the stock market kept going down, contrary to their predictions. Could it be that the talking heads might not know what it takes to save the market?

I’m never more cynical than when I turn on the television (which is not often) to see a news reporter asking an “expert” what must be done to avert some disaster or another. Without exception, the person being interviewed assumes a professorial tone and begins pontificating as if they are qualified to dispense advice. The disturbing part is how the news media lap up the expert’s guidance and present it in a way that makes it seem all but unimpeachable.

So, let’s step back for a moment and consider the complexity of the global economy. The value of the U.S. stock market is determined by a nearly-infinite set of events and conditions. The buying habits of billions of people, the investment confidence of those people from day to day, the status of other world markets, the price of a barrel of oil in Venezuela compared to that of the London exchange, the value of the U.S. dollar compared to the Chinese yuan, the proximity of the latest hurricane to oil fields in the Gulf of Mexico, the stability of the government in Uzbekistan, the presence of nuclear activity in North Korea – all of these circumstances contribute to the value of the markets each day. Consumer confidence is a factor that is not subject to mathematical laws. If it were, we could publish the equation and tell everyone when and where to invest, with little risk.

The fact is, no man really knows for certain what must be done to make the whole thing hang together. Some people may pretend to know, and some people may actually believe they know, but the real truth is that the system is too complex and too dependent on unknown factors for any one man to grasp it. And this, of course, leads me to my point.

God created this world. He put things in motion originally, and he does not treat us like a science experiment – where the scientist puts together the initial conditions and then remains “hands-off” until the experiment is concluded. Rather, He is active in our everyday world. Like the stories we read in the Bible, God is involved with the happenings and occurrences of his creation. Proverbs 19:21 tells us, “Many are the plans in a man’s heart, but it is the Lord’s purpose that prevails.” How God gets this done is beyond my understanding, but I believe that His hand is touching everything that I see. When I wake up in the middle of the night with a feeling that something is wrong, or when I get stopped by an inconvenient red light only to discover that an accident just occurred ahead of me that I might have been involved in – I believe that God causes things to happen around me.

The world of finance, whether it is the complexity of world markets or just my savings account, is ultimately governed by God and it serves His purposes. James 4:13-14 tells us, “Now listen, you who say, ‘Today or tomorrow we will go to this or that city, spend a year there, carry on business and make money.’ Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes.” In the grand scheme of events, the size of my own financial investments is hardly under my own control, and matters little in God’s great plan for eternity. Continuing the verse, James 4:15 says, “Instead, you ought to say, ‘If it is the Lord’s will, we will live and do this or that.’” This clearly indicates that’s God will is what governs events, not what men predict or calculate. In fact, this proves that we cannot know with certainty what the future holds. But this flies in the face of humanistic tendencies, where men think they are god, and so must be able to control and ensure the future. But this can never be.

We should take comfort, though, in the fact that God is in control. You see, He really cares for us and wants us to be drawn to Him. He is not the blind watchmaker, winding up his creation to spin out its own existence in a series of random events. Psalm 37:28 says, “For the Lord loves the just and will not forsake his faithful ones. They will be protected forever, but the offspring of the wicked will be cut off.” This truth gives me comfort, even as I watch the value of my stock portfolio erode. Perhaps God has a plan bigger that I can envision. And perhaps God is using these events as a means to have us draw closer to Him. After all, it is when people are most destitute and stripped of their earthly possessions that they finally admit that they are not in control. And if they aren’t in control, Who is?

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