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?
We all experience beauty, from the simple, delicate beauty of a dew-drenched flower to the immense, magnificent beauty of mountain peaks or a Beethoven symphony. While beauty doubtless moves us all in undeniable ways, we tend to relegate it to experiences of leisure, and thus most often pair it with rest and sabbath. Beauty is found when we attend an orchestral performance. When we hike the mountains or stroll along the beach. When we splurge on a bouquet of flowers to adorn our home. In other words, rarely do we consider what beauty has to do with our work, let alone with our finances or investing.
However, beauty matters for our work. And, as we shall see, it also matters to our investing. Beauty is an essential characteristic of creation, which makes it central to our work as stewards of God’s creation. In what follows, I consider how investing, as a faithful act of stewardship, protects and further cultivates the beauty and goodness of creation.
Investment is rooted in the creation account. God gives the first humans what theologians and biblical scholars call the “creation mandate,” which can be seen in both Genesis 1 and 2. Genesis 1 puts it this way: “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it, and have dominion” (Gen. 1:28, ESV). This framing of the mandate fits well with the forming and filling motifs present in this first account. The second account, in Genesis 2, gets more intimate and personal, presenting it like this: “The LORD God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to work it and keep it” (Gen. 2:15, ESV). The NIV renders the last part, “to work it and take care of it,” and the NASB reads, “to cultivate it and tend it.” These Hebrew words in Genesis 2 have a rich range of meaning, but their diverse variations all point in the same direction: to cultivate and oversee God’s creation with great care. This language has often been referred to as stewardship language, and rightly so. But it is also investment language.
The creation accounts display the mandate for humanity to fruitfully increase God’s creation and to take proper care of it while doing so as wise and faithful investors. This much is clear. But what about beauty? What does this have to do with stewardship or investing?
Numerous times, God declares his creation “good.” In Hebrew, this term, tob, while primarily meaning “good,” also has resonances related to beauty. A reputable Hebrew lexicon states that, as an adjective, tob means “pleasing, agreeable, good.”
Outside of Genesis, we also see Psalm 104 communicating the goodness and beauty of creation through lavish praise of Yahweh, the Creator God. Most of this psalm refers to the raw materials and living things in God’s vast creation, but when we zero in on verse 15 we see something unique, namely cultural goods that humanity has crafted through creatively cultivating God’s creation. Verse 14 praises God for making “grass grow for the cattle” as well as making plants grow “for people to cultivate” (NIV). Verse 15 continues, describing what has been cultivated from what God provides: “wine that gladdens human hearts, oil to make their faces shine, and bread that sustains their hearts” (NIV). Grapes are wonderful; so too olives and wheat. But bread, oil, and wine do not come directly from the stalk, tree, and vine. A steward—an investor—must work with these raw materials, must put in time, energy, and loving care, to bring about these greater cultural goods.
These cultural goods—and myriad others besides
Such works of cultivation—such acts of investment—serve to fulfill the creation mandate to be fruitful and multiply, to fill the earth, and to lovingly cultivate and tend the garden. We begin by protecting creation—by maintaining the beauty and goodness it already displays. Yet, we don’t stop there. We invest our time, our skills, and our resources into the soil of the garden and the fruit it produces to cultivate even greater goodness and beauty for the benefit of all and the glory and honor of God.
As we consider how all this applies practically to investing, we must ask ourselves: What businesses are truly good, even beautiful—are “rightly pleasing”? What goods and services are truly good and truly serve? What endeavors are drawing out the latent beauty of creation? These are the things worth investing in.
Conversely, what businesses shroud the good and instead promote evil? What business activities desecrate the beauty and goodness of creation? As faithful stewards, we ought to avoid investing in such things.
In a sense, then, we might consider investors as the “master planners” over the garden that is God’s creation. They have a say in what resources are used and to what ends. In a post-Fall world, there is a marbled mix of good and evil intentions and outcomes concerning the use of God’s world. As faithful stewards of Yahweh’s creation, investors must be concerned about more than just maximal returns. What matters more is the maximizing of the glory God receives through maximizing the goodness and beauty of his creation, a goodness and beauty that we are called to both protect and further draw out of creation. And it is this investment in beautiful that, in turn, produces such rightful pleasure and enjoyment for us as well.
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.