By Doug Inglish … For some of you, this might be new, but I’ve seen this before.
When I was a young driver, not really needing my own car, yet but finding it necessary to borrow one of the family cars from time to time, I had enough sense of responsibility to put some gas in the tank now and then. No big deal. So, by the time I did buy my first car, the habit of paying for my own fuel was well established.
Then everything changed. Or, I should say everything began changing on a daily basis, sometimes multiple times in a day. Every time I passed a gas station, a new and higher price was posted. One evening, I came in from the construction job I had that summer and told my dad, “I don’t know how I can afford to drive to work if gas hits fifty cents a gallon.”
Always a man of calm perspective, he replied, “There will come a day, and soon when you will wish it would hit fifty cents a gallon again.”
As usual, he was right. That day was very soon after, and every day since then for that matter.
Things eventually settled down, and for several decades inflation was at a more reasonable, manageable pace. In fact, a lot of items actually went down in price while going up in quality, such as electronics. Gas itself has been a more volatile ride, with the global market being affected by wars, labor issues, technological advances, and political disputes. When it went past a dollar, I never thought it would go back under, but it did for a time. Same thing at two dollars.
But now everything seems to be going up, and fast. You can read about it in the news or go see for yourself at any store. Inflation is soaring again like it was around the time I was filling the tank on my battered Chevy Impala. Not only at the gas pump. We are all paying more for food, energy, insurance, clothing, tires, and household goods. Inflation is even affecting me at work, where my ability to invite a gifted pastor to fill a position in one of our churches is frequently stymied by the cost of housing.
With this kind of instability, it’s hard to plan. Can the water heater last another couple of years, or should I get one before the price jumps? Can we afford a vacation? Is the price of used cars going to come back to earth before this one falls apart? Will a college degree be out of reach?
I am not an economist, and happily so, because I consider the field to be one of the black arts, like voodoo, witchcraft, and automatic transmission repair. But as I said in the beginning of this article, I have seen this before, and watching our country (and indeed, the world) go through it again, I think I can safely declare a very real economic principle: Stability is an illusion. It seems to be around for a while, but then everything goes haywire, and you get left wishing gas would hit fifty cents again. Or two dollars, or whatever. Soon enough, we may find ourselves longing for the good old days of five-dollar-a-gallon gas prices.
But we long for stability in life. We like to know where our next meal is coming from, for everyone to stop at red lights, and to not get hit with a pop quiz in our 7:30 class. The stress of watching prices rocket toward the stratosphere is just one more reminder that stability is not just an economic illusion; it’s a fleeting vapor that we chase in our jobs, our relationships, our health, and our golf game, if that’s your thing.
But God is stable. He’s the Rock upon which the church is built (Matthew 16:18), our shelter (Psalm 61:3), our fortress (Psalm 91:2), and the One Who hears when we cry out to Him (Psalm 55:17). When things go bad, God is good. He is dependable. Unchanging. Stable.
One bit of evidence of His stability is found, oddly enough, in economics. Inflation has had a profound effect over the last 4000 years, but I am returning the same tithe that Abraham did that long ago.
If you don’t think that’s a remarkable fact, consider sales tax rates. When I was a boy growing up in Indiana, the state sales tax was 2%. Today, it is 7%–more than a threefold increase. If God were only as stable as the legislature of that rather conservative state, our tithe rates would now be 35%, and yes, that’s before offerings. But the One Who is from everlasting to everlasting remains steady, never adjusting His rates because circumstances change.
I know that is a function of the fact that it’s not about revenue for Him (Micah 6:6-8), or about His needs (Psalm 50:12); it’s about recognizing His sovereignty (Psalm 24:1). Nevertheless, the fact that tithe has remained at a steady rate throughout its history is an indication, from the dark field of economics, that our God is stable. The kind of stable that lets me know, even when inflation is eating away at our security and foiling our attempts to plan ahead, that I can count on Him to keep me afloat.
I’ve seen this before. Tithe is my anchor in this storm because it is the assurance of God’s stability.
–Doug Inglish is RMC vice president for administration and stewardship director; photo by Rajmund Dabrowski