By David Tulis
The tedious ruin of the American dream is a day closer than last time I mentioned the castaway Robinson Crusoe in Daniel Defoe’s famous work — the first English novel, as the book is called. Ruin is coming to the U.S. as it did to Robinson, the adventurer who despised his father’s advice and whose disastrous voyage ending in shipwreck began as an investment in the slave trade.
The American economy lives in a fantasyland that is coming back to earth, back to reality. Gone will be the dream that government can save us for our covetings and our willingness to socialize ordinary business risk. The notion that we can tax ourselves into prosperity will fade. Falling into ruin will be the belief that if government shackles the entrepreneur we shall have wealth for all and eternal safety. Proven vain will be the hope we can borrow into eternity without having to repay. Appearing as a stupid lie will be the peddlings of the crowd that calls envy equality.
The slow-motion return to reality will affect my hometown — and yours. I live in Chattanooga, which by reason of the prudence of its people was less damaged by the 2008 meltdown than other parts of the country such as Las Vegas. ‡ It has been reported that the Chattanooga local economy is among the strongest in the nation. Whether you are here, or in some other good place, you will to some degree be a victim of the crash. You and I are invested to some degree in the system. We will tally losses at points where we have invested our treasure and hopes in its survival.
I bring up the spiritual life of an early survivor hero, Robinson Crusoe, shipwecked on a desert island. Why is that so important? He is a model for how to react to disaster practically and how to be willing to accept it as a providence of God and thus an edifying experience. Robinson offers two things to us: Christian resignation at evil circumstance and resourcefulness.
Disaster enables your walk in holiness
A depression leaves a mark on the people of a nation. A bankruptcy marks a businessman’s sense of his life — there being the period before Chapter 7, and the one after. On survivors of divorce, whether parent or child, there are left lifelong scars.
But what is the purpose of disaster? Robinson imagines what he might of done had not God given him occasion to salvage many tools and objects from the ship before it washed away in a high sea. He imagines he would have perished. Had he been able to catch a goat or fowl, he would have had to rip its bowels open with his teeth “like a beast.”
“These reflections made me very sensible of the goodness of Providence to me, and very thankful for my present condition, with all its hardships and misfortunes; *** Let them consider how much worse the cases of some people are, and their case might have been, if Providence had thought fit.” (p. 172)
Robinson reflects where he would have been spiritually had not disaster stricken him. “I had lived a dreadful life, perfectly destitute of the knowledge and fear of God. I had been well instructed by father and mother; either had they been wanting to me in their early endeavors to infuse a religious awe of God into my mind, a sense of duty and of what the nature and end of my being required of me. But alas! falling early into the seafaring life, which, of all the lives, is the most destitute of the fear of God, though His terrors are always before them; *** all that little sense of religion which had entertained was laughed out of me by my messmates; by a hardened despising of dangers, and the views of death, which grew habitual to me ***.” He recalls his earlier near-death encounters, his escape from slavery among the Moors, and whenever he used the Lord’s name it was mere swearing and blasphemy. (p.173)
The castaway says God dealt bountifully with him, “had not only punished me lss than my iniquity had deserved, but had so plentifully provided for me; this gave me great hopes that my repentance was accepted, and that God had yet mercy in store for me.”
Miracles sparkle amid storm’s dark roarings
The adventurer locked away on his island is given a resignation to the will of God and “a sincere thankfulness for my condition.” Notice this gratitude is not IN his condition, but FOR his condition. “I, who was a living man, ought not to complain, seeing I had not the due punishment of my sins; that I enjoyed so many mercies, which I had no reason to have expected in that place; that I ought never more to repine at my condition, but to rejoice, and to give daily thanks for that daily bread, which nothing but a crowd of wonders could have brought; that I ought to consider I had been fed even by miracle, even as great as that of feeding Elijah by ravens; nay, by a long series of miracles; and that I could hardly have named a place in the unhabitable part of the world where I could have been cast more to my advantage; a place where, as I had no society, which was my affliction on one hand, so I found no ravenous beasts, no furious wolves or tigers, to threaten my life. *** In a word, as my life was a life of sorrow one way, so it was a life of mercy another; and I wanted nothing to make it a life of comfort, but to be able to make my sense of God’s goodness to me, and care over me in this condition be my daily consolation *** ” (pp. 174 174). (Italics added)
You may lose everything, but not your soul
I offer these insights into suffering through disaster because they are more important and useful than mere financial advice on where to invest. I don’t give investment advice. But I will mention several implied bits of advice that arise from my presuppositions and the local economy perspective. These include having a side business or home-based business you run parallel to your employment, payment of all old debt, liquidity, precious metals, food storage minimums pursuant to advice from Uncle Sam, tithing and, finally, a light holding-on of physical property.
I mention the prospect of blessing amid national judgment not because I expect everyone is going to be hurt to an equal degree. But the spiritual side of economic disaster is one we can all share in the detail, regardless of outward circumstances.
What are benefits of economic cataclysm?
➤ Sorrow for pointless consumption and coveting. Sporting gear, LCD TVs, pointless gadgets, cars, trips and games — all purchases that are lawful, but which sprung from vanity
➤ Renewed trust in God for His providence, as you have less or no financial padding after your investment debacle
Source: Daniel Defoe, Robinson Crusoe (Philadelphia: Courage Books, 1990), illus. N.C. Wyeth. Avoid bowdlerized copies of this book that delete its Christian interest.
‡ Dave Flessner, “Local economy bounces back,” Chattanooga Times Free Press, C2, Sept. 20, 2012. “Chattanooga’s manufacturing-based economy was battered more than most cities during the recession, but a new study shows Chattanooga is bouncing back more than most other cities. Among America’s biggest metropolitan cities, Brookings Institute researchers found Chattanooga ranks among the top quartile in the pace of its recovery from the 2008-2009 recession.”