One of the news items today is a report on the UK economy showing that it is thought to have grown by 0.8% in the first quarter of 2014.
This is seen as a positive thing with the Chancellor welcoming the news but warning that
the recovery could not be taken for granted
The shadow chancellor acknowledged the positive growth numbers but is concerned about the fact that
millions of hardworking people are still feeling no recovery at all
There is a sense that things are getting better, at a macro-level, but that for many people things are still as they were or worse. Underlying the opinions expressed is the premise that economic growth is a good thing which is something that we have become so accustomed to that it is accepted as a fact – and I don’t know enough about economics to know whether it is really true. Interestingly, on the same day, an article was published asking whether wealth has made the people in Qatar happy. According to this article, Qatar is now the richest country in the world with the average per-head income exceeding £60,000 per annum.
The article itemises many of the benefits which the Qatari people enjoy but there is a sense of something valuable having been lost. At the end of the article there is a quote from an American anthropologist who has lived in Doha for a long time:
Have some sympathy for Qataris. They’ve lost everything that matters
That, admittedly, extreme example does raise questions about the challenges to a society associated with economic growth – though few would suggest that the economic hardships we have been experiencing over recent years have been helpful. But are there different indicators that we should use to assess the health of a nation? In what we now refer to as the “Sermon on the Mount” Jesus calls on his followers to make a choice as to whether they are going to pursue earthly treasure or are they going to seek to serve God and do the things which are important to him (Matthew 6:19-24). And he presents his listeners with a stark choice, arguing that they can’t do both:
No one can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money.” (Matthew 6:24)
And to get an idea of what serving God is like we can look at Jesus’ “manifesto” at the start of his public ministry:
The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor. (Luke 4:18–19)
Jesus was there for the marginalised, the poor, the neglected, the oppressed. If we are seeking to follow him then these should be our priorities as well, and how well we deliver against these should be a mark of how our society is doing.