The term ‘marketplace’ is used to mean ‘the public square’ in the widest sense. That is, I am not thinking only of ‘the market’ in a purely economic sense, but the whole world of work – trade, professions, law, government, education, industry – wherever human beings engage together in productive projects. The Old Testament word was ‘the gate’ – the public square where people met and did their business together, of whatever kind.
Is God interested in the marketplace? Many Christians seem to operate on the everyday assumption that He is not. Or at least, that God is not interested in the marketplace for its own sake, as distinct from interested in it as a context for evangelism. God, it would seem, cares about the Church and its affairs, about getting people to heaven, not about how society and its public places are conducted on earth. The result can be a rather dichotomized Christian life in which we have to invest most of the time that matters (our working lives) in a place and a task that we think does not matter to God, while struggling to find opportunities to give some left-over time to the only thing we think does matter to God—evangelism. Yet the Bible clearly and comprehensively, in both Testaments, portrays God as intensely interested in the human market place—interested, involved, and in charge.
Work is God’s idea. Genesis chapters 1 and 2 give us our first picture of the Biblical God as a worker – thinking, choosing, planning, executing, evaluating. So when God decided to create humankind in the image and likeness of God, what else could humans be but workers, reflecting in their working lives something of the nature of God? Specifically, God laid upon human beings the task of ruling the earth (Genesis 1), and of serving and keeping it (Genesis 2). This enormous task required not only the complementarity of our male-female gender identities, for mutual help, but also implies some other fundamental economic and eco-logical dimensions to human life.
God has given us a plan with vast diversity of resources scattered all over its surface. There is, therefore, a natural necessity for trade and exchange between groups living in different places, to meet common needs. That task in turn necessitates economic relationships, and so there is the need for fairness and justice through-out the social and economic realms. There needs to be justice both in the sharing of the raw resources with which we work, and in the distribution of the products of our work. The biblical witness is that all of this great human endeavor is part of God’s intention for human life on earth. Work itself is of the essence of our human nature. We were created to be workers, like God, the Worker.
According to the Bible, God is the independent judge of all that goes on in the marketplace. The Old Testament speaks repeatedly of Yahweh as the God who sees and knows and evaluates. This is true in the most universal sense, and of every individual (Psalm 33:13-15).
But it is specifically true of the public square. Israel was reminded repeatedly that God calls for justice ‘in the gate’, which is in contemporary terms, the marketplace (Amos 5:12-15). Further-more, God hears the kind of talk that would go on either in the hidden places of the greedy heart, or in the confidence of a business deal. Such exploitative talk is condemned by the prophet (Amos 8:4-7). And for those who think that God is confined to his temple and sees only what goes on in religious observance, comes the shock that he has been watching what goes on the rest of the week in public (Jer. 7:9-11).
A common Christian assumption is that all that happens here on earth is nothing more than temporary and transient. Life here is nothing more than the vestibule for eternity, so it doesn’t really matter very much. To this negative comparison is added the idea, drawn from a mistaken interpretation of the language of 2 Peter 2, that we are headed for total obliteration of the whole earth and indeed of all the physical creation. With such a prospect, what eternal value can possibly attach to the work we do in the world’s marketplace here and now?
But the Bible presents a very different prospect. God plans to redeem all that He has made, and included within that will be the redemption of all that we have made with what God first made. Isaiah 65:17-25 is a glorious portrayal of the new creation – a new heaven and a new earth. It looks forward to human life that is no longer subject to weariness and decay; in which there will be fulfilment in family and work; in which the curses of frustration and injustice will be gone for ever; in which there will be close and joyful fellowship with God; and in which there will be environmental harmony and safety. The whole of human life, private, family and public, will be redeemed and restored to God-glorifying productiveness.
All human history, then, which takes place in the marketplace of human public interaction, will be redeemed and fulfilled in the new creation – not just abandoned or destroyed. All human work, then, in that marketplace, has its own value and eternal significance, not just because of our understanding of creation and the mandate it laid upon us, but also because of the new creation and the eschatological hope it sets before us. With such a hope, we can heartily follow Paul’s exhortation, knowing that ‘the work of the Lord’ does not mean just ‘religious’ work, but any work done for as unto the Lord, which includes even the manual labour of slaves: Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labour in the Lord is not in vain (1 Cor. 15:58).
The twin sayings of Jesus about being salt and light in the world (Mt. 5:13-16) are still crucial insights into what it means to follow Jesus in the Market Place. Jesus applies these metaphors explicitly to practical living, not merely religious devotion or evangelistic witness. As a Bible Society, along with Translation, Production and Distribution of Scripture, Scripture Engagement is an important area we work on. Realising that God is in the Market Place and of the Market Place, Bible Society of India engages herself in relating the Word to the World by identifying with the suffering humanity and also by encouraging the readers of the Bible to be good stewards of God’s Creation by caring for the environment and by being just and ethically upright in the Market Place in our different spheres of work, depicting clearly and convincingly that God is in the Market Place .
Rev. Dr. M. Mani Chacko
Bible Society of India