The economy has been diverging from historical norms for years. U.S. stock market prices are near record levels.
But profits have not followed suit which have resulted in high price/earnings ratios. Similarly, employment has been slowly increasing. But the economy has not been adding high-paying jobs. Real (inflation adjusted) median family incomes are stagnant. Increasing rents, medical expenses, and higher education costs are straining the finances of the disappearing middle class. Large numbers of workers and potential workers have been leaving the work force.
The international economy is also diverging far from historical norms. International trade is down sharply. Debt is burdensome throughout most of the developed and developing world. Interest rates are negative in Europe and Japan, and have not been ruled out by the Federal Reserve in the United States. Even though central banks have been flooding the world with money, results have been disappointing. Economic growth is an issue.
Origins of many of the economic divergences seen today can be found in the fiscal and monetary policies of governments and central banks. In an attempt to prevent an economic collapse in 2007/2008, governments provided trillions in stimulus funding and central banks provided trillions in quantitative easing. Both undoubtedly reduced the severity of the crisis.
But the policies inadvertently have complicated and lengthened a recovery; with some arguing that seeds have been planted which will produce a worst economic collapse. Stimulus funding was paid for with debt. Quantitative easing has created historically low interest rates and accompanying economic distortions. Easy money has likely created bubbles in stock prices and resulted in questionable financial tactics; record numbers of corporations have gone into debt to repurchase their own stock instead of investing in plant and equipment.
Divergence also has application to the kingdom. Are we seeing a divergence between today's church and historical norms? Are we modifying the church to fit the culture, or changing the culture in our communities? If the former, do we see the power of the Word and Spirit in our churches? The early church changed the culture and 2,000 years of generations have reaped the benefits.
The Scriptures clearly annunciate the characteristics of a last days' culture and what should be our actions. The last days will be known for:
People who walk after their own ungodly desires and scoff at the second coming (Jude 1:18; 2 Pet. 3:3-4).
People will be self-centered, boastful, proud, unthankful, blasphemers, unholy and love money (2 Pet. 3:2).
People will not keep their word, will slander, will despise those that are good, and will be fierce, be conceited, love pleasure more than God and will not have natural affection (2 Pet. 3:3-4).
Last-day conditions, as described in the Bible, accurately depict what is seen today. As we move closer to the Lord's return, we can expect to see a progressively greater divergence between the people of the kingdom and the kingdom of the world. The differences between the wheat and tares within the church will also become more obvious.
As Christians, we have been given clear instructions. Specifically, we should build up our holy faith, pray in the Spirit, keep ourselves in the love of God ("If you love Me, you will do what I say") and wait for God's mercy (Jude 1:18-21).
As ministers, we have been instructed to preach the Word, reprove, rebuke and exhort with patience and teaching. We have been forewarned that people will not endure sound doctrine, that they will listen to teachers according to their own desires and that they will turn from truth to myths.
During this last days' divergence, we should do all that we can to ensure ourselves and our people are solidly on God's side. God has given us the ability, the means, and the tools to equip the saints for whatever may come. The Holy Spirit is always ready to assist.
Dr. James R. Russell is professor of economics and chair of the Undergraduate College of Business at Oral Roberts University in Tulsa, Oklahoma.
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