If the world worked on a barter system, how would you fare? Would you have services to barter? Would you be successful, or would you struggle?
Bartering, while not as prominent as it once was in human history, is still alive and well today. I have, on more than one occasion, bartered a skill for someone else’s skill. Basically the dynamic is straightforward. Person A barters her skill of plumbing, while Person B barters his skill of auto repair.
In this scenario, Person A gets her vehicle repaired and Person B gets his pipes fixed. Both are happy with the exchange and neither is out too much cash. Of course, few companies now are willing to work on a barter system. It is hard to pay salaries and insurance when you are bartering your expertise and labor. However, there are some skilled laborers who are willing, on their own dime and time, to work out an agreement.
I remember a recent movie played off the barter system, from what I recall of the ads, where people bartered time for food and such. So, say a hamburger would cost you ten minutes of your life, or something like that. (I didn’t actually see the movie.)
I thought this was an interesting twist on this old system of business transactions. It got me thinking about other possible scenarios. How about a world where for every sin you committed, you bartered part of your soul in return. Perhaps “larger” sins exacted a higher cut than did the run of the mill sins. If a person bartered too greedily then they would become a wraith or something like that.
For anyone who has a skill, particularly a labor skill; such as carpentry, auto repair, plumbing, welding and so forth, I think such a person could survive in that type of world. Now for those who had no such skills, then they would be left either without much recourse or turning to more seedy bargaining ploys.
In many of the post-apocalyptic (which seems to be oxymoronic to me) movies I’ve seen, bartering is standard fare in the wasteland culture. It’s usually not a pretty picture. It is uncivilized and barbaric.
But, I think in certain situations, with laws in place for fairness and equal pay for equal trade, such a system could work.
Of course, we would need to talk the electric, gas and phone companies into going along with the idea! It’s like the auto repair tech said to his customer who asked him for a break on the bill, When the electric company gives me a break on my bill, then I’ll give you a break on yours! Again, equal pay for equal trade would be an important part of the plan.
As a believer, I look at things from a spiritual point of view. It seems we often times try to barter with God. Now God, if you will give me that raise at work, I’ll attend church more regularly. Or, God, if you heal me of this terrible flu, I’ll give a little more money in the offering plate this Sunday.
Sometimes our bartering is more wicked. God, just let me have this one affair, this one pet sin and I’ll do this or that for you.
The people in the Old Testament tried to barter. They wanted their sins, but they wanted to keep the feast days and the sacrifices too. They were trying to appease God. If we do X and Y, then he will turn a blind eye to our idolatry and perversions. God of course didn’t let that fly.
In fact, through his prophet Amos he told them if they thought such an approach would work with him they were sadly mistaken.
“I hate, I despise your feasts, and I take no delight in your solemn assemblies. Even though you offer me your burnt offerings and grain offerings, I will not accept them; and the peace offerings of your fattened animals, I will not look upon them. Take away from me the noise of your songs; to the melody of your harps I will not listen. But let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream. (Amos 5.21-24)
These were the very things God had ordained for them to do under the Law. But, God was never interested in formality. He was never interested in ritual for its own sake. God was and is concerned about the heart. If the heart is right, then the outward acts take on meaning. However, if the heart of the worshiper is not right, the outward acts are dead and lifeless; even worse, they are an hypocrisy.
God does not barter. He is not one to be appeased. He calls for obedience and commitment; nothing less.