In this “Age of Discouragement” (to coin a phrase) the study of economics can be depressing. It’s commonly called “The dismal science.” As the old joke has it, “Economists have predicted ten of the last five recessions.” Capitalists and communists fight each other. Some companies lay waste to the environment and ruin the reputation of honest entrepreneurs. But the machinery of the economy helps us not only to understand human nature but to explain our relationship with God’s creation.
Honest commerce is necessary and wholesome. We take the raw materials of God’s good creation, form them into products (or services), and use them — or sell them at mutually agreeable prices. By the work of human hands, we use God’s gifts, harvest His trees, and build our houses. Add virtuous living and our dwelling places become happy and peaceful communities. Our handiwork, accompanied by the free exchange of goods and services, is essential to commerce and affirms our dignity.
Productive work is satisfying. We delight in the fruits of our labor, relaxing with family at home, enjoying recreation time, or just gazing with delight on our handiwork. Furthermore, the generosity of honest work and commerce is contagious and begets generosity in others.
But we can abuse commerce. God gives us the freedom to use His gifts and our hands for good purposes, but because of Original Sin we often succumb to the tug of evil inclinations. We can use the knife we produce from iron ore to cut a loaf of bread or use it to murder a brother, as Cain murdered Abel.
Sin deforms the natural connection we have with God’s creation. The disobedience of Adam and Eve transformed the wood of the tree in the Garden – the symbol of God’s gift of life and freedom – into a grotesque sign of sin and death. How easy it is to use God-given gifts and talents for sinfully selfish purposes. In so doing, we also abuse the tree from the Garden of God’s creation and fashion crosses of torment for ourselves and others.
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