There was a bumper sticker that was popular for a while that said, “He who dies with the most toys wins!” While most people focused on the materialism represented in that sentiment, I want to instead look at the underlying drive to have it all. Back in 2004, on July 28th in the early days of this blog I wrote a post addressing this issue: Having It All. People regularly find that post during Internet searches and someone read it early this morning, which brought it back to the front of my mental queue.
In addition, today’s 82nd Christian Carnival at In The Outer uses an ancient Chinese Christian text as the framework for presenting this week’s postings. The text uses the classic Eastern view of negation (presenting truths by stating what to avoid) to interpret four fundamental Christian concepts (called dharmas to the Eastern mind): no wanting, no doing, no piousness, and no truth. The Bloke, as the author calls himself, created a unique, interesting, and instructive approach to presenting the Carnival.
His presentation helped me to refocus my thoughts about the fundamental opposite to those dharmas, stated in that very hedonistic bumper sticker: the desire to have it all. This pervasive cultural attitude is not companionable with the John the Baptist and fundamental Christian premise of “I must decrease that he [Christ] may increase.” Instead it lays bare the ignoble desire to consume everything without limits. I have heard this used as one of the definitions of Satan, where he is seen as the king of the hill of hell who insatiably consumes everyone and everything beneath him.
Let me share with you my original posting.
For the first time in human history, it is possible for almost anyone (with the limited caveat of starting with reasonably good health) to have it all. If you decide to live near a major metropolitan area, technology and its offshoots and byproducts have created the ability for you to have almost anything you want, anytime you want it, almost instantly. There are times that it may take a little creative planning to pull off some of the more exotic possibilities, but the ability to satisfy even some of your most outlandish whims and desires is without precedence. Instead of only a very few rich and powerful people being able to decadently indulge their whims, now, in the West, especially in America, extremely large portions of our population have this power. I believe there is a price to pay for this. As we have lost what I view as the rhythmic cycle of want and fulfillment, we lost a very important balancing effect on our lives.
To me at least, it appears that as a culture and individual human beings, we have sunk into a nearly inescapable spiral of excess: excess food, excess sex, excess thrill seeking, excess entertainments, and in the end, excess excess. What is the drug culture other than the attempt to experience the new and novel, to take our mind and bodily sensations beyond our normal limits and go where they have never gone before. Haven’t we, as a people, finally reached the point where we can have, not just want, it all?
Looking back on those, who in the past, through wealth and power, came the closest to having their every whim satisfied, do we see nobility, great character, and the ascendancy of the human spirit? No, it appears to be the opposite, despite some rare exceptions. They were often spoiled brats. Turning to our ever growing population of whim fulfillers aren’t we turning into a culture of petulant spoiled brats ourselves? The former excesses of the few are now the excesses of many and to use a contemporary context, aren’t we approaching a tipping point in our culture that would have made the Epicureans of old rapturous with envy? What is to be said about a life that when lived, the best thing that can be said about it was, “He had it all”? How about a culture with the same end point? Can we survive this pell-mell pursuit of hedonistic fulfillment? What lies ahead? This is unprecedented in human history. Never before has such a critical mass of people become so sated.
Sated. That is a good, descriptive word. As a Christian I try to walk the narrow path between giving up everything and taking on what is necessary. Paul understood this difficult balance and expressed his attainment of it in Philippians 4:11-13.
I am not saying this because I am in need, for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do everything through him who gives me strength. Philippians 4:11-13
One of the chief goals for my Christian life has always been to reach Paul’s maturity of understanding, of knowing how to be content with my circumstances, while at the same time not using that desire for contentment as an excuse for inaction or not striving to better the situation when needed. Paul himself expressed an understanding of this dichotomy when he told the Philippians,
If I am to go on living in the body, this will mean fruitful labor for me. Yet what shall I choose? I do not know! I am torn between the two: I desire to depart and be with Christ, which is better by far; but it is more necessary for you that I remain in the body.
Decisions, decisions, decisions. Reaching the perfection of Christ is HARD work and each step exposes my fundamental inadequacies. However, I continue to work out my salvation with all of my remaining strength because God is at work in me, authoring and finishing and accomplishing his own good pleasure. Hallelujah!
What a paradox it is to be a Christian. God bless your day and may his grace and peace find you in every circumstance.