The message of the movement is somewhat muddled and its goals most definitely unclear. But the heart of it appears to be a complaint that all of the economic troubles besetting not just our nation but the world are to be laid at the feet of capitalist businessmen who have behaved unethically and distorted the “system” in order to line their own pockets. There is also a sort of socialist tilt to the movement, a demand that the government should redistribute wealth and provide lots of stuff for everybody.
Another thought I have about the protests is that I suspect the protesters probably don’t see that they are largely in sympathy with the very thinking that has helped create the problems they are protesting against. Most of them are quite likely in line with the current “postmodern” thinking that stridently proclaims that there is no absolute good, there are no values that are superior to other possible values. They probably believe that each person must decide for himself or herself what is good, what is right or wrong. No one can tell anyone else what is right or wrong because there are no objective standards for such things.
Fifty years ago C. S. Lewis wrote a book entitled The Abolition of Man in which he pointed out what the inevitable effect of that will be. He said that society was in the process of removing objective values. The thinking was that one cannot say for instance, “courage is good” and expect others to submit to that standard. The problem with this inevitably will be that society then would turn around and bemoan the fact that men were not courageous any more. The protesters cry that Wall Street is guilty of greed and corruption. The answer to that clearly must be that if one determines that there is no absolute standard of right or wrong, no objective good, what’s wrong with corruption and greed? You may not like it, but who cares what you like? That’s your problem. If Wall Street barons have decided that the lifestyle they believe is good glorifies corruption and greed, then who is to condemn them for following their hearts? Unfortunately the protesters have no reason to protest unless they are willing to admit that there are some things that are objectively wrong and evil. But to do that is to deny the philosophy so many of them almost certainly espouse.
Another problem I fear the protesters have is what they’re really protesting against is human nature. Is capitalism the problem? Many of them would say that it is. But this would seem to fly in the face of the consistent patterns of history. Is it only in capitalist economies that there has been corruption, greed and the abuse of power? That would be a laughable position to try to maintain. Some of the most hideous abuses of power, some of the worst corruption ever to stain the human race has occurred in socialist and Communist nations. Throughout history wherever there have been human beings there has been corruption, greed and misuse of power. The problem doesn’t seem to be a function of the system, because it exists no matter what system humans implement. The problem seems to be in the humans. At the core of the problem is a commitment to self above all else. “I’m going to do what is good for me.” Perhaps the intent is not to intentionally hurt others, but when I’m going to take care of myself no matter what happens to others, then others are going to get hurt. Are those who protest really claiming they do not share this human foible? They are not given to thinking first about themselves? Unfortunately tinkering with the system will not solve this problem, because it manifests itself no matter what system you put people in.
I have sympathy with those who are protesting. I don’t like what has happened in the economy. And I have been disgusted by the avarice that has driven powerful people to unethical actions and by the appalling lack of good sense so many have evidenced. I, too, do not believe that greed is good. I also wish that somehow human nature were different. But I am very clear that human nature is the problem. Yes, we should have better laws, and we should do all we can to work to have the most equitable system possible and to look out for the poor and powerless. But at the end of the day laws and systems can never change the human heart. Oddly, as I look at the protesters, what I see are people crying out for God’s grace to come and transform people. What is necessary is what the prophet Ezekiel said God would do in the New Covenant. “I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit in you and move you to follow my decrees and be careful to keep my laws” (Ezekiel 36:26-27).
Now that would be a change that would be profound. What would this world be like if people had new hearts, hearts that beat to keep God’s laws, laws that command us to love each other the way Jesus Christ loves us and gave himself up for us? I’m pretty sure that would be a world where there would be no greed, no corruption and where power would only be used to serve others. Though they don’t know it, the protesters are telling the world what is needed is for the good news of God’s grace through Jesus Christ to come and change hearts everywhere. I couldn’t agree more.
It needs to start with me. It needs to start with me letting God’s grace free me and his Spirit fill me and break the hold of a fallen nature that is so obsessed with self. I need to live out this transformed heart in my own morality, ethics, priorities and relationships. I need to do all I can to see that our church demonstrates what this new community of transformed people would be like. And I need to pray for others and bring them the good news, the best news they could ever hear, that there is hope. But that hope is not in a system. It is in the grace of God.