No one formally instructed me on the theology of scarcity, but somehow I believed it. I didn’t even know I believed it until Emmett, our cairn terrier, showed me.
On our daily walks Emmett always looked for something to eat. Any moldy piece of bread or chicken bone with ants crawling all over it is viewed as delectable morsels he simply must have. One day he gobbled up something disgusting and I had had enough. I yelled at him, jerked his lead, made him sit down and began to reason with him, “Emmett, I have fed you twice a day since we brought you home. You have a yard to hang out in, we walk every day, and you have been provided for your whole life. Why would you eat that crap?” He just looked at me, licked his lips, yawned and pretended he didn’t know what I was talking about.
Of course I had to carry both sides of the conversation so I formulated a response for him that began to disturb me, “Master, master, I know you have taken care of me every day of my life. You have fed and sheltered me and become my family. Even though this has happened consistently since I was a pup, it will most likely end tonight.”
This is the theology of scarcity. I started to wonder, “Did I believe this?” I have been provided for all my life, and yet fear continues to drive me towards foolish and unhealthy crap. I fear the other shoe will drop and I will end up under a bridge eating cat food. I know what God says but…I was living in the theology of scarcity just like Emmett. Fear told me God’s provisions were a fluke, temporary, and would most likely end tonight.
The theology of scarcity is a dangerous belief for relationships. I remember realizing this during a massive conflict when I was identified as the ring-leader in a cast of characters who caused a decade-old hurt in a person and now they wanted to confront me. I was defensive. I reasoned multiple ways to reject the criticism aimed at me; the amount of time that had passed, Matthew 18 had not been followed, regulations in our church constitution forbid people bringing complaints this old, and the indignation…the list goes on. Someone wanted to take something from me and I needed to protect myself. I was deep in scarcity theology. I spun this conflict like a holy quest and everyone I knew was with me, except the Holy Spirit. Dang.
The Spirit was pushing the theology of abundance. I read it everywhere. Genesis 1 illustrates the abundant goodness of creation. Psalm 23 describes a feast with an overflowing cup, even in the presence of enemies. The fishermen-disciples in John 21 haul overflowing nets when they follow Jesus’ direction.
Paul shows us how what a the theology of abundance looks like in Philippians 2:4, “Don’t look only to your own interests but also to the interests of others,” implying there is plenty to go around! Jesus calls me a friend and a son. “You are an heir with all the resources you need. If you give some or even all of your stuff away, or someone takes it, there’s plenty more. You live in abundance. You are a SON. Your resources are limitless. Don’t be afraid.”
Naming and repudiating scarcity and entering the conflict with an abundance mindset changed everything about me. During the mediated encounter, I carefully listened and actually understood how this person had been hurt. I could join him in his grief over his loss. I could wholeheartedly accept my part in his hurt. I could apologize for me and all the others who were implicated in this old, sad story. It helped him and it helped me. I did have enough. There was enough to be radically generous.
I walked into the grocery store the other night and saw the man I had hurt in the checkout line. He had not seen me and I wondered if I should speak to him. Would he be glad to see me? How awkward would this be? I could disappear in the back and linger at the dairy section until he was gone. Scarcity theology runs deep and lingers. But that night abundance prevailed and I yelled across the cashiers to get his attention. I waved and made my way around to shake his hand and greet him. He smiled and greeted me warmly. The Spirit is all about abundance theology.