The Spiritual Economics of Loss Aversion

In economics and decision theory, loss aversion refers to people’s tendency to strongly prefer avoiding losses to acquiring gains. Most studies suggest that losses are twice as powerful, psychologically, as gains.

In his homily this past Sunday, our former pastor used the economic theory of loss aversion to more deeply examine Jesus’ insights into what it will mean for him to be the “Christ” and what each of his followers must do–leave everything behind and take up their own cross.

Christianity flies in the face of this innate human tendency to take few risks and avoid loss at all costs. Well, at least most costs.

But that is what Jesus asks of us. And we see the response to his invitation modeled in both ways, as a “yes” in his disciples at the start of his ministry and as a “no” in the young man who is unable to part with his riches.

One of my members, GIA Publications, has a song from Marty Haugen, called “Look and See the Face of Christ.” If you haven’t heard it before, give it a listen.

What hits me like a brick wall in this song is that as much I may try to avoid any part of the invitation to follow Jesus, I can’t. It’s always staring me in the face in the face of someone else.

Why avoid it? The promise of Jesus is everlasting life spent in the presence of the God who is love. I think I get glimpses of that occasionally when I reluctantly let go of something in my life that may cause me initial pain.

Where are the glimpses of that glory in your life–when the pain of loss is overcome by the joy of God’s love?

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