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Being Thrifty Without Letting Go of Extravagance

by Guest on March 24, 2011

What words describe God and his economy?

Big spender. High roller. Spendthrift. These certainly aren’t words we would choose to describe God.

Cheapskate. Penny-pincher. Tightwad. None of these words would seem to fit either.

So what words would describe God and his economy?

One way to find out would be to look at nature. After all, “Ever since the creation of the world [God’s] eternal power and divine nature, invisible though they are, have been understood and seen through the things he has made” (Romans 1:20 NRSV).

A few years ago, my wife and I hiked above the tree line on Mount Rainier. Everywhere we went on the trail, we were surrounded by wildflowers. For as far as we could see, wildflowers covered the mountain slopes. And I’d guess that on the back sides of the slopes there were more wildflowers that we couldn’t see—and that probably nobody could see.

Now I’ve been to the Vanderbilt Mansion in North Carolina, and the Vanderbilts really knew how to be big spenders, high rollers, and spendthrifts. They had gilded froufrou on their marble froufrou. But they would have never thrown around flowers the way God throws them around on the slopes of Mount Rainier.

God is magnificently, incomparably extravagant.

But what happens to all of God’s flowers at the end of the short alpine summer? When we’re done with something, we throw it away, but God can’t throw anything away because to God, there is no “away.” No, God uses those flowers to feed the birds, and the insects, and the chubby whistling marmots that are scrambling around the mountains. And ultimately, God reuses every molecule of those flowers in one way or another.

Now my parents grew up in the Great Depression. They never threw anything away. After they died, when my sisters and I were cleaning out their apartment, we found a whole kitchen drawer full of twist ties from bread wrappers. My parents were incredible cheapskates, penny-pinchers, and tightwads. But they never tried to find a use for every last faded flower.

God is immaculately, incomparably thrifty.

But here’s the really remarkable thing: The Vanderbilts were always extravagant; they didn’t know how to be thrifty. And my parents were always thrifty; they didn’t know how to be extravagant. But God is incomparably thrifty and incomparably extravagant at the same time.

One of our challenges in trying to develop a God-honoring financial lifestyle is that God so often embodies characteristics that seem downright contradictory to us. They’re not contradictory, of course; God doesn’t contradict himself. But from our terrestrial point of view, they can certainly seem contradictory. They’re paradoxical, which is the best word to describe God’s economy. “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways my ways, says the Lord” (Isaiah 55:8 NRSV).

“In the day of prosperity be joyful, and in the day of adversity consider; God has made the one as well as the other … It is good that you should take hold of the one, without letting go of the other; for the one who fears God shall succeed with both” (Ecclesiastes 7:14, 18 NRSV).

Jonathan Kopke has been teaching Christian stewardship precepts for over twenty years. He is the author of the book God’s Thrifty Extravagance: Understanding What the Bible Says about Money, which was released in February by Discovery House Publishers. Jonathan and his wife live in Cincinnati, Ohio, where he works as a software developer.

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