James K.A. Smith has written extensively on how our hearts are—often unintentionally—formed by our habits. What investing habits are we participating in that may be subtly shaping our view of money?
Although it might not be intuitive, Romans 12:9 provides a compelling framework for investing: “Let love be without hypocrisy. Abhor what is evil. Cling to what is good” (NKJV). Our investment decisions are one of the most powerful ways we can apply the idea of hating what is evil and clinging to (and thereby loving) what is good.
Faithful investors are characterized by a desire to see all that is good in God’s world grow and flourish. At the same time, they oppose all that is evil and contrary to God’s purpose for his creation by refusing to profit from or aid in helping evil multiply.
This dialectic frame for investing is simple, but not at all simplistic. Though easily grasped, in practice it requires reflection and investigation into what God has defined as good and evil.
In addition, this dialectic frame for investing is moral, but not moralistic. That is, it doesn’t follow that all or even most companies can be easily assigned a label of “good” or “evil.” But Paul’s specific usage of general “good” and “evil” language does imply that we can recognize God’s moral order in the universe, identify it within our real world, and act in accordance with his design.
In light of this frame, four brief reflections deserve mention.
First, investors can look for financial advisors or asset managers that are avoiding what is evil. Avoiding investing in “evil” will require discernment, identifying industries or businesses that contradict God’s purposes for his creation, especially those things that harm people, all of whom bear God’s image, those that fail to guard his good world, or those that create products that consistently require restoration from the bad outcomes they produce. What is encouraging in this area is that there has been growing consensus from the Christian faith community on what are knowable evils we should seek to avoid.
Second, investors can look for financial advisors or asset managers who can assist them in aligning their investments with what is good. Investing in the “good” is a category as wide and long and high as anything that God has called “good,” including his material creation, and all that reflects God’s nature and contributes to human flourishing. It is not for nothing that we call the products of business “goods” and “services.” This is because the products of business are intended to be genuinely good; the products of business are intended to be genuinely a service to humankind. When trying to discern if a product is a “good” or “service,” ask yourself: 1) Is this product meeting an important human need? This would be things of clear and basic social value, such as food, clothing, shelter, energy, and healthcare, among other social goods. 2) Is this product a development that enhances the world? We recall here that God placed humanity in a “very good” creation (Gen. 1:31) and commanded them to effectively make it “even better” (Gen. 2:15). This would be all of the ways that business creates things that we don’t strictly “need” but that nevertheless enhance the quality of life together. We don’t need for example, electricity, lights, microphones, video cameras, computers, internet, and video conferencing software, but connecting more personally over great distances can enhance the quality of life and foster community.
Third, God’s design is never arbitrary. Rather, what he has called good and evil is in line with the grain of the universe. That is, it will necessarily lead to human flourishing and therefore carries an inherent long-term competitive advantage. In short, there is a compelling case to be made that this paradigm leads, over a long time horizon, to better performance.
Fourth, in a fallen world, the products businesses create are rarely ever 100 percent good or evil, but rather, mixed, like dross amidst the silver. In spite of this, wise, discerning asset managers will employ disciplined methods to clarify metrics of how companies align with these categories, not simply to signal virtue, but to follow the purposes of investing in God’s good, fallen, and being redeemed world. Hebrews tells us this kind of moral discernment is the mark of spiritual progress and maturity:
For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you again the basic principles of the oracles of God. You need milk, not solid food, for everyone who lives on milk is unskilled in the word of righteousness, since he is a child. But solid food is for the mature, for those who have their powers of discernment trained by constant practice to distinguish good from evil.” (Heb. 5:12-14, ESV, emphasis added)
I believe that this is the role and responsibility of those called to serve Christ in the area of capital stewardship.
Above all, we must remember that the motivation Paul gives in Romans 12:9 is love. Genuine love, that is love “without hypocrisy,” expresses itself in these two directions: abhoring what is evil, clinging to what is good. May our love, and investing, be genuine.
This communication is provided for informational purposes only and was made possible with the financial support of Eventide Asset Management, LLC (“Eventide”), an investment adviser. Eventide Center for Faith and Investing is an educational initiative of Eventide. Information contained herein has been obtained from third-party sources believed to be reliable.