Scarcity and Abundance in a One-Storey Universe

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We stand mournfully around the grave, letting the strains of the hymn find their resolution in the final chord. The priest approaches the coffin, now closed and ready for lowering into the grave. The closing of the grave begins with a single handful of dirt. The priest tosses the dirt with the words: “The earth is the Lord’s and the fullness thereof.”

Fullness seems strangely contradictory to the mood of a funeral. The pain of loss and the emptiness of a life that seems to have gone from the midst of us speak not of fullness but now of scarcity. I will not hear that voice, hold you close to me or listen carefully for your footsteps.

No setting could be more stark in which to proclaim “fullness.”

But it is at the grave that we are perhaps the most clearly confronted with the claims of our faith. For it is here at the grave that God made His own final assault on the myths and fears of a world dominated by death. This world of death always proclaimed the sovereignty of sorrow, the ascendency of scarcity.

From the abundance of Paradise man falls into a world in which thorns and thistles dominate:

Cursed is the ground for your sake; In toil you shall eat of it All the days of your life. Both thorns and thistles it shall bring forth for you, And you shall eat the herb of the field. In the sweat of your face you shall eat bread Till you return to the ground (Genesis 3:17-19).

But now, standing at this funeral, the priest proclaims, “The earth is the Lord’s and the fullness thereof.”

What fullness? Again it is the assault of God on the world man has made. The earth is not the kingdom of scarcity, but now the Kingdom of God. The grave is not the gate of Hades, but the gate of paradise. Fullness can again be proclaimed for the grave has been ruptured and cannot hold its prey.

This struggle is a daily struggle. Is the world I live in one of scarcity or abundance? The answer to the question has much to do about almost every decision I make. The threat of scarcity tells me that whatever I have, like my own life, is limited. Nothing is ever enough. There is not enough money, enough food, enough love. The abundance enjoyed by another is always at the expense of myself and others because the world is governed by scarcity. Thus I must fight; I must wrestled to gain whatever I can and cling to it till death wrests it from my cold, dead fingers.

However, if the earth is the Lord’s and the fullness thereof – if every good thing comes from God who is without limit – then scarcity has been defeated and abundance reigns within the Kingdom of God, now and always. In this abundance there is not just enough, but more than enough. I can share. I can give. I can love without fear that there will be too little to go around. The abundance enjoyed by another is not at my expense for those who have much are not the rulers of this world. Thus I need not fight; I do not need to gain or to cling. God knows I have need of all these things.

The earth is the Lord’s and the fullness thereof. The emptiness of death has been filled with such an abundance of life that it has been trampled beneath the feet of those who walk the way of Christ. In this fullness we can do more than give – we can love even to the excess of forgiveness. My enemy has stolen nothing from the abundance that fills my life.

This proclamation of abundance has nothing in common with the prosperity gospel which is all too often driven by the fear of scarcity and the need to amass material things to prove the goodness of God.

Instead, as proclamation it needs no assurance greater than the resurrection of Christ. He is the abundance of life.

In the one-storey world in which we truly live it is all too easy to assume its boundaries are those set by geographically defined notions, and that, by definition, things are finite, hence scarce. But this is a failure to recognize what has happened in the world in the coming among us of the God-Man, Jesus Christ. As He Himself said:

Go and shew John again those things which ye do hear and see: The blind receive their sight, and the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, and the deaf hear, the dead are raised up, and the poor have the gospel preached to them. And blessed is he, whosoever shall not be offended in me.

In Biblical language, this was Christ’s proclamation of a Jubilee year – the great Jubilee Year – in which all debts are cancelled and righteousness is restored. He has extended this confidence of abundance even to the blind and the lame. Even they receive the abundance of sight and the ability to walk. Lepers, once trapped in the scarcity of their disease and shame, are cleansed and returned to the company of men. The world has changed. Christ did not do these miracles in a world removed from the one we inhabit. It was blind and lame in the very midst of us and in this world who were healed. Thus it is with the same confidence that we proclaim the victory of His kingdom – in what we say and do.

What martyr disdained to live the abundance of this proclamation? What saint, in His poverty, declared God to be poor and this world to be bereft of its fullness? And yet our own confidence in the material machine of modernity (not in God) worry and are anxious about its limits. Modernity’s fullness has its limits for it is not the fullness of God but of man (and this as unredeemed). It offers a false promise. It’s fullness does not generally induce kindness and generosity but acquisition and envy.

True fullness will always beget generosity and kindness – it is a hallmark of the work of God. True fullness brought a cry of “the half of my goods I give to the poor” from the lips of the Publican Zachaeus. True fullness will always be marked by such cries – they are echoes of “Indeed, He is risen!”

5 Responses to “Scarcity and Abundance in a One-Storey Universe”

  1. Mary Lowell Says:

    Father, Bless!

    Your open-air sermon this evening on a Kentucky mound that will become the site for a new temple dedicated to St. Athanasius, echoed the timeless message of this post, “Scarcity and Abundance in a One-Storey Universe” ⎯ FULLNESS. Bloggers who only know you through these essays should know that “fullness” is also the theme of your preaching. We were near to tears with joy, as were you, every time that word met the air from your lips.

    Thank you for joining the word “fullness” to our most difficuly reality, death, but in the most life proclaiming way!

    Mary

  2. Lucas Says:

    Father, bless.

    I’ve never really understood the meaning of the Orthodox reading of Romans 5:12 (specifically, the proper translation/understanding “because of Death all sinned”) until reading this, your post. Thank God.

  3. Visibilium Says:

    Scarcity is the material manifestation of our inherent finitude and serves as a constant preoccupation for those of us who need to sustain a physical existence. Scarcity appears in its most generic form by the necessity of our gaining something only by giving up something else. The fullness inhering in God escapes us because of our contingent existence.

    Therefore, I’m not sure that fullness means the absence of scarcity, but rather the meaninglessness of scarcity. When we are with God in Theosis in our physical bodies, scarcity simply won’t matter.

    I’m intrigued by Christ in the Gospel and how he dealt with taking on our finitude. Many times he seems tongue-tied, answering with images and analogies rather than words. It’s interesting how we tend to view words as more precise than images, and he took the opposite tack.

    I hope that I’ve given you fodder for more postings.

  4. Bry Says:

    Really enjoyed reading your thoughts about the church…. wow….
    We have so much to consider. Christ in us the hope of glory…
    Because of Him… in spite of us. All we really HAVE to do is believe.

    Whatever follows is His work in us. Even our motivation and all of our help come from the Lord, and we experience supernatural wonders every day.

    Don’t be too discouraged about the church. People will always let you down,
    but there is one who sticks closer than a brother.

    Peace – Bry
    (in Florida – old friend of the Minton family and Alana Sheldahl)
    (Also a former Church of England choirboy!)

  5. Economical Metaphysics, Part 2 « Nothing Hypothetical Says:

    […] are delusions, what is reality? That with God there is no scarcity. Father Stephen has a wonderful post about […]

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