The most visible indicator of Ireland’s full blooded participation in the so called ‘global economic downturn’ is the marked absence of ‘09 cars whizzing through the highways and byways of this fair isle ! So far this year (and I have been counting!) I have spotted 3 such just-left-the-showroom models, their pristine gleaming bodywork cocking a snoot at our plummeting economy. Recently released figures show that new car sales are down a whopping 60%. Now car dealers are not the first occupation that springs to mind in the sympathy stakes, along with solicitors , auctioneers and property developers they are well back in the queue of things that sadden us about recession. Job losses such as the 2,000 announced for Limerick giant Dell have had a devastating effect in this region and beyond, and though long flagged, still packed a punch when the announcement was made. One time (it seems a lifetime ago already!) our economy got the cute pet name of ‘Celtic Tiger’ now it seems more like a ‘Down and Out Teddy Bear’ and all the so called money gurus and advisers have been caught napping. Our only consolation , and the only one being offered by our dithering government is that we are not alone and we are part of a global network of downward spiralling economies. Our particular fall from monetary grace was hastened by some dodgy bankers and a burgeoning property-boom bubble that was just waiting to burst. And burst it has ,leaving thousands of home-buyers with houses that have been dramatically devalued, repaying inflated mortgages. We didn’t take a leaf out of the old Patriarch Joseph when he was put in charge of the Egyptian economy and wisely stored away grain during the years of plenty to see that country through their lean years (Genesis 41). During our boom there seems to have been little thought of any ‘lean’ period ahead and precious little provision was made for such an outcome. So here we are, the air heavy with talks of government-spending cuts, wage cuts, job losses, and even direr prospects to come. This once confident (some might say ‘arrogant’) nation has been reduced to a breeding ground of pervasive gloom and foreboding. The collective ‘strut’ is limping and the ‘feel good factor’ has been well and truly replaced by a ‘fear-filled factor’.
Is there any silver lining to this particular cloudy scenario ? Can economically straightened times return us to a more substantial and reality based lifestyle? Can, dare we hope it, a simpler lifestyle cause us to seek out those spiritual values that during more prosperous times have been put on the back burner ? Historically there is reason for hoping that less (in material terms) can really mean more (in spiritual terms). One of Jesus methods of teaching was to tell a good story and one such tale recounts the mortal state and the immortal state of the rich and the poor. In His account there was a rich man enjoying all the trappings of wealth, eating sumptuously, dressing in finery etc, and a poor man, Lazarus ,begging crumbs from his table covered in sores and barely alive. They both died, Lazarus going on to enjoy the bliss of ‘Abraham’s bosom’ (Heaven) and the rich man ending up tormented in Hell (Luke 16). The rich man it seems ,had allowed the possessions of this world to make him forgetful of his Creator while poor Lazarus had nothing else but his trust in God which sustained him through and beyond the hardships of this life. As the world becomes entrenched as our only home, we lose our pilgrim hearts which point us towards a city whose builder and founder is God Himself (Hebrews 11:10). Could this be our time to seek afresh the Kingdom of God and discover those ancient truths which once sustained this nation and its people ? As King Solomon reminds us, in God’s calendar as in ours there is an appointed time for everything (Ecclesiastes 3), this may be such a time when we are given the opportunity to open our hearts to the love of God poured out for us through His Son on the cross. As Jesus hung on that cross the soldiers beneath Him gambled for His robe, oblivious to the true worth of what was happening before their very eyes (John 19:24). Perhaps we too have been blinded by the ‘phony’ value attached to the baubles of the ‘Celtic Tiger’, now we need to look up and see Him who loves us and gave His life for us. Like poor Lazarus we must put our trust in Jesus and allow the worth of His sacrificial death to enrich our lives and rescue our wayward hearts.Then at last we too will find our way home, back to the Father, back to the Centre and ultimately to our everlasting home in Heaven.