A couple of years ago, I had a long layover at an Australian airport. While waiting in line to pay for a snack, the man in front of me haggled with the cashier over his purchase. He wanted to use Bitcoin to buy a candy bar. The woman ringing up the sale stated multiple times that they didn’t accept such currency. The man, for his part, went on to give a somewhat lengthy lecture on the need for them and everyone to get with the times because cryptocurrency is the future. Besides being irritated by the delay he caused, I remember thinking how foolish and out of touch the man sounded. In my limited understanding at the time, cyber money was in the same category as Monopoly money – worthless for any practical purpose.
I don’t know a whole lot more today than I did back then. But I do now believe that it’s unlikely that cryptocurrency is going away. It stirs controversy and polarizes investors because it is challenging the way we understand money. And at an even more fundamental level, it is calling out how value is determined. Rather than continuing to accept the traditional system where governments and financial institutions largely control currency, crypto investors are betting on the expanding appeal of a decentralized scheme where no single person or group can manipulate value. It’s sounding more interesting even if it still seems a bit strange.
What makes something valuable?
Where value comes from is a question to ponder. Cryptocurrency and NFT’s (non-fungible tokens) after all are digital. There is nothing to hold in your hand unless you cash-in through a broker of some kind. A market for NFT artwork is also developing. Unique digital NFT collectibles (Google “Bored Apes”) are being sold for thousands and even millions of dollars.* And all this cyber stuff attracts investors in the same way an original Van Gogh or Rembrandt does. It’s not the material itself that holds intrinsic worth but what it represents: beauty, status, freedom, decentralization.
Value is determined by what people are willing to pay for any given item or service. Though the dollar amount may fluctuate with the needs, interests, and moods of people, value itself is a very real entity, even if it is mysteriously intangible, fluctuating in strange ways. It can cause the price of a baseball to shift from $8.99 to $752,467.20 in just a few seconds because a certain person hit it over a fence.**
A Different Economic System
The Bible talks about seeking “heavenly” or “glorious” riches in contrast with putting our hope in mere earthly wealth. What kind of value is this referring to? All throughout the scriptures our human value systems are disparaged for their short-lived nature. We’re told, on the other hand, that followers of Jesus have amazing riches waiting for them that are imbued with eternal qualities. There are riches of grace and kindness (Ephesians 2:7; Romans 2:4); riches of glory (Ephesians 3:16; Romans 9:23); and riches reserved in Christ Himself (Ephesians 3:8; Philippians 4:19) to name a few. It’s a whole other way of thinking about what’s valuable. One day in the future – and perhaps even now – the material wealth we depend on in this present day will be worthless for buying what we really need and want.
I foresee a time coming when the treasures we long for and need for existence are going to fit into categories like “Heavenly Recognition” or “Nearness to the Throne of God” or “Fruit from the Tree of Life.” I imagine that the common currency used will be such eternal qualities in line with what the Spirit now offers to produce in our lives: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control (Galatians 5:22). The “riches in Christ” will be those things which stir delight in us like nothing this present world can offer. But will we even recognize these true treasures for what they are if we’re not cultivating them now? I’m afraid some of us could be overdrawn on our heavenly bank accounts.
Jesus warned us to “not store up your treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither month nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also” (Matthew 6:19-21 ESV).
We need to study Heavenly Economics a bit more. If we, as Jesus followers, have not developed a true sense of value on this earth for what we will be pursuing and exchanging in heaven, we could end up stepping into eternity feeling quite poor and a bit confused. If I continue to get caught up seeking earthly glory while ignoring heavenly glory, I won’t have much of an investment portfolio when I step into the next life. And by collecting and giving riches of grace, mercy, kindness, and forgiveness that have been offered to us in Jesus, we make heavenly deposits that will be waiting for us. Such heavenly wealth can also provide what we need here and now as we navigate painful and exasperating circumstances.
Wealth that Lasts
I believe the Spirit of God is seeking to teach us NOW how to operate and thrive in heavenly economics. How well are we learning? Many of us could feel like paupers in heaven because our wealth management in this world did not line up with what was to come. But, it’s something for which there is still time to change.
It’s a different way of thinking about wealth. In the same way that cryptocurrency with its NFT’s forces me to think outside the box of what is valuable, heavenly treasures call me to adjust what I now invest myself in. Ultimately, the only things that will hold their worth are those which God declares to be valuable to Him. And if we are wise investors, we will pay attention and make the needed adjustments regarding what we are storing up for tomorrow.
*Try Googling “expensive NFT” for some more specific examples.
**The ball that Barry Bond’s slammed out of the park in San Francisco for his record-breaking 756th home run on October 5, 2001, sold for this amount.