Twenty-two million jobs lost in one month in the U.S.! This is a staggering number as it wipes out most of the jobs gained since the global financial crisis in 2008. And with this crisis likely not abating anytime soon, it seems this number is sure to increase. The COVID-19 crisis has exposed the weakness of many family finances, as three quarters of Americans were living paycheck to paycheck even before the crisis. The ongoing decline in living standards for the West will be accelerated by this crisis. Many families will struggle to meet their basic needs.
What will this mean for the ability of our families and particularly our young people to achieve their dreams and aspirations? According to Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, we need our basic needs for food, shelter, and security to be met so we can rise to the next level. We also need the sense of belonging and community to continue to grow, all of which the virus has taken from us. In 1943, Abraham Maslow proposed his model of psychological health and human development. This model has now been well accepted and is a foundation for health care, education, and other fields of human development. The importance of meeting basic needs in order for humans to achieve their full potential is very widely believed.
Coincidentally, in 1943, near the end of WWII, John Maynard Keynes of England and Harry White of the U.S. established the basis for the Bretton Woods agreement, which laid the framework for the rebuilding of the world economy after the war. There the agreement was made that laid the framework for the rebuilding of the world economy after the war. The cornerstone of this agreement was the establishment of the U.S. dollar as the global transactional and reserve currency. The U.S. effectively became the banker of the world, and ever since has been the dominant financial power. We have never in the history of the world seen the level of prosperity experienced in this dollar era. Maslow’s basic needs were being fulfilled, and many were rising to the pinnacle of “self-actualization.” But will the economic decline resulting from COVID-19 be the neutron bomb that wipes out the aspirations of generations?
Years before Maslow, another framework was presented and a proclamation was made. The framework said, “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” And “blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.” “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.” “Blessed are those who are persecuted . . . for theirs is the kingdom of heaven” (Matt. 5: 3-10). A poor carpenter from the worst neighborhood in the country described a different concept for human development. One that didn’t require any material wealth to be fulfilled. One that gave great hope to the poor and disadvantaged of the world. In an era when wealth was considered an emblem of God’s approval, the poor received this good news and promise with joy and amazement.
Furthermore, this Peasant proclaimed that the kingdom of heaven was at hand. This kingdom was coming to them, in spite of their poverty and misery. This audacious claim was met with scorn by the elite, but embraced by those who had no hope. This Pauper said that this kingdom was like leaven. If you got a just a pinch of it, it would completely change the nature of the one in which it was placed, from the inside out. If you caught a glimpse of it, it would render everything else worthless, and nothing but a full exchange of everything we have for this treasure would satisfy our soul.
Christ ushered in this kingdom 2,000 years ago and offered it to us as a model of psychological health and human development. What more could we aspire to be than heirs of the kingdom of heaven? Even joint heirs with Christ? In our modern prosperity, we may have lost sight of this kingdom and the highest destiny it offered to humans. And even more, perhaps we as Adventists, seeking and waiting for Christ’s return, have forgotten the most crucial tenet of Christ’s proclamation. One that He repeated again and again. The kingdom of heaven is at hand! Christ’s kingdom started 2,000 years ago, even as we wait for the future delivery of this promise.
“By the life we live through the grace of Christ, the character is formed. . . . The attributes of the character of Christ are imparted, and the image of the Divine begins to shine forth. The faces of men and women who walk and work with God express the peace of heaven. They are surrounded with the atmosphere of heaven. For these souls, the kingdom of God has begun.”*
Christ walked closely with just a small group of people to help them catch the vision of this kingdom, because He knew that if they did, they would set the world on fire. What would our churches look like if we, as Christians, really embraced the proclamation of Jesus and accepted His invitation to be part of His kingdom today? What would it mean to a world living in fear and uncertainty to see faces shining with the peace of heaven? What if we lived like the kingdom of heaven has already begun?
*Ellen G. White, The Desire of Ages (Mountain View, Calif.: Pacific Press Pub. Assn., 1898), p. 312 (emphasis supplied).
Tim Aka is an associate treasurer and director of investments for the General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists in Silver Spring, Maryland, United States.