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The up-side of down

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Can anything good come from the growing economic crisis the world faces?

Many are seeing their life savings and retirement plans vanish before their very eyes. Stock markets seem to plunge further each day. Sociologists fear a rise in divorce and family violence due to increased pressures of unemployment and depression. Some desperate souls who never before experienced hard times have taken their own lives as some did at the start of the Great Depression.

In recent decades many in the developed world cruised along through times of easy and even irresponsible credit and now are paying the piper. We are learning the hard way that there is "no free lunch." No matter how much we may wish we had never entered this unstable economic era, we cannot deny the reality of the social changes we are witnessing. The fiscally responsible are suffering along with those who were not, making them bitter and resentful especially when they see the irresponsible rescued by government recovery plans.

Many economists believe we are just beginning to experience the negative impact on our world. Nations around the globe are propping up their economies with stimulus packages and recovery plans. But what we ought to be considering is whether we truly want to return to the absence of values which got us into this mess in the first place.

A recent article by Michael Gerson in The Washington Post was reprinted in our local newspaper. When I read it, I was struck by a significant point he made: hard times can move people to improve their moral behavior. But it depends on how they handle the challenge.

Here is some of what he wrote, "...During the Great Depression -- with about a quarter of Americans out of work -- crime and divorce declined. During the relative prosperity of the 1960s and 1970s, crime rates shot up and families broke down...'One reasonable hypothesis,' argues James Q. Wilson, 'is that the Depression pulled families together, and this cohesion inhibited crime.' Many Americans who struggled through the Depression adopted a set of moral and economic habits such as thrift, family commitment, savings and modest consumption that lasted through their lifetimes -- and that have decayed in our own. The Depression generation controlled the things it could control -- including its own consumption and character.

"We see hints of this type of reaction to our current recession, which has such clearly moral causes -- the burst of a bubble inflated by irresponsible debt, consumerism and unaccountable risk-taking. During an economic crisis, Americans return to a language of morality. Perhaps excess and recklessness are vices that deserve social stigma. Perhaps frugality and prudence are personal virtues as well as practices that prevent economic collapse. Perhaps there is a distinction between securing our needs and being dominated by our wants." (emphases mine throughout)

Prevailing moral standards can change in times like these. People who gave little thought to the deeper issues of life now have been abruptly awakened by the loss of so many of the things they counted on, including their "toys." Some are learning the hard way that materialism can never satisfy their inner craving to understand the meaning of life. That spiritual hole can only be filled by the Benefactor of life.

Gerson concludes his article this way, "...A recession causes suffering that can overwhelm hope. It can also lead to the rediscovery of virtues that make sustained prosperity possible -- and that add nonmaterial richness to our lives. Sometimes grace can arrive through an unexpected door."

Whether we ever return to the prosperity we once knew is an open question. But what is certain is that life will not be the same - for better or for worse. Past absence of moral values can now be filled by true values, if we make the choice to do so, regardless how the economy responds . Will you choose these values? You can live them in spite of how your family or colleagues respond. Ultimately, the person who determines the values you live is yourself.

This crisis should move us to spiritually reevaluate our lives. Please read the practical advice we offer in our articles Can You Really Change Your Life? and Modern Morality and the Ten Commandments. There is no better time for people to make life-changing decisions to serve the God of the spiritually abundant life. There is an up-side of down. But we need to choose it.