The Culture of More
ne of my dear friends who has been blessed with substantial wealth once said to me, “I read The Wall Street Journal every day, and on every other page I read that evocative message you always talk about — bigger, better, faster will make me happy. My problem is that I can afford it all. So what’s the grid that I can use to decide whether or not to buy what they’re selling? It all looks pretty nice.” For people of modest wealth, those decisions are pretty much determined by their income. They may still be vulnerable to the message — we all want to be happy, right? But they are limited in what they purchase because they can only afford so much. You, on the other hand, can have it all. Or at least a lot of it. And in our culture, more is truly seen as better.
My friend is a devoted follower of Christ. He wants to be obedient, to be a good steward. But he inherently knows that he is vulnerable in the “culture of more” in which he lives, and that its effects are so subtle that he may not even be aware of what’s happening to him. And although we’re focusing on people like you who have so much, this is a universal issue for most Christians living in affluent cultures such as ours. Even in my own life, when I read the Bible—especially the words of Jesus—my culture informs how I read and interpret what he says.
For example, Jesus very clearly says, “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth” (Matthew 6:19). And because I live in a culture where financial security is practically a right, I think to myself, “Surely Jesus doesn’t mean I shouldn’t save up for retirement.” Why would I think like that? Watch one hour of television in the evening, and count how many commercials warn you that you might not have enough money to live more than a few years beyond retirement. Pick up Time magazine or Businessweek and note the prevalence of investment firms suggesting your retirement is at risk if you don’t sign up with them. The Bible, as evangelist Billy Graham used to observe, never mentions retirement. This is a cultural phenomenon that has been so ingrained in our thinking that I cannot read that passage warning about storing up treasure without thinking a little defensively about retirement. My culture affects how I read and respond to God’s Word.
The Bible also teaches us to pray for our daily bread (Matthew 6:11). And not to be anxious about tomorrow because God will take care of us tomorrow (Matthew 6:34). Jesus seems to be saying I don’t need to save up a lot of money for the future, but I have been so conditioned by the advice of financial planners that it seems absolutely foolish not to keep contributing to my IRA.
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