Sunday, August 01, 2021

Render unto Caesar: A perspective-shift

I've pondered before over Jesus' saying to "render to Caesar the things that are Caesar's, and to God the things that are God's." I still consider the most practical and edifying point is this: we are the ones with God's image, we are the ones who bear God's name; we belong to God, and we render ourselves to him. Though the most common use of that passage is as a commentary on taxes -- the original question that was asked of Jesus. 

Lately I find myself side-eyeing that saying from a different perspective: government-issued currency. Roman money was manufactured by the government for its own purposes, and they took care to stamp it in such a way as to remind people of their presence and involvement in their financial system. Having a common, regulated currency was even a useful function. Much remains the same. 

From the context of finances, it is easy to be distressed over a fact of modern life: that our financial security is tightly tied to money with no intrinsic value and no guarantee on its stability. The systems we establish to reassure ourselves -- in this country, social security and the 401k system -- are likely enough to help us along in future years, but they also have no guarantee of full return on investment, much less sufficiency for our needs. The pandemic has given us some insight into how fragile our supply chain may be. 

The question people asked Jesus about taxes is closely related to the question about serving God or serving earthly money. Do we trust a human system? How far do we pursue an earthly goal? In our day, if the fiat currency were to revert to being mere numbers on a piece of paper or numbers on an electronic record, would we be secure? 

Our current financial system has endured long enough that we can overlook that it is a human system run by humans: dust, all of us, and eventually returning to dust. The things needful for life are all based on nature: food, water, sleep and the like. If money disappears or the government that establishes it fails, the food and water remain, even though the hardships of re-creating the system would be considerable. So Jesus' saying can also remind us to trust God's providence rather than our human systems: Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar's, and to God the things that are God's. 

No comments: