An Imprecise Theology of Things and Stuff

When the sun bursts into the sky or when a fireworks display proves a stellar imitation, I know it is good and I take it in. When friends invite me over for dinner, I am grateful for the meal and the company. I know these things are good. When someone laughs at a joke I tell or better yet when another person “knows what I am talking about”, I pause and savor it. These are life’s delicious moments. Indisputably they are to be enjoyed, but they are without monetary expense. If the best things in life really are free, as the song suggests, then the Christian finds himself facing an odd quandary: To what end should he seek out these material, though wholesome, pleasures?

A college friend once explained that he and I both looked at the world through the lens of culture and arts and pointed out that the higher goal was of peering strictly through the lens of Christ. He and I enjoyed many of the same things: books, movies, records. What I understood as a healthy avenue of spiritual maturity, he believed a condition of our fallen nature-that were we more mature we would not place value in these temporary, fleeting things. I ardently defended the idea that these pop culture trash heaps of vanity were of heavenly worth inasmuch as God intended to use them for our benefit.

I realize now that this was a dangerously ill-defined concept, one which easily could be manipulated to suit or justify whatever whim, habit, or fancy I entertained. I could consume mass quantities of media in the name of being culturally-conscious. I needed to watch the Sopranos. I needed to listen to the Jay-Z/Linkin Park mash-up. I needed to play the Wii. I needed to Facebook. Depending on the week, this call to engage the culture-at-large can be a right holy bonus of good Christian living. More often though, it is a burden. It’s too much to keep up with and already I fail enough.

The other position is equally unhelpful. In a recent video, Paul Washer compelled his listeners to get off of Facebook and to stop sending “stupid little messages to each other like 13 year-old girls.” There is a gospel call to heed and no time to waste. To make his point, he told the story of two young men in recent times who sold themselves into slavery. They did this so that they could spend their lives sharing about the gospel with the slaves. What a beautifully chilling testament of the love of God, that these men were so convinced of it that they gave up their lives to benefit others. So, what’s wrong with that? Washer makes it seem as if theirs is the only appropriate response. He might have you believe that any person with a semblance of normality too tightly clings to the things of this world. That is not necessarily so.

There is a version of Christianity that is like capitalism with a cross. These people thank God that they are so fortunate, dismiss charity as a scam or welfare, and swear by the power of personal determination. They secretly believe that somehow they merited life on the right side of the tracks, in the right part of the world, and with all their rights intact. This is the American Delusion. They feel no urgency to do good for people.

As mentioned before, my problem is in not knowing how to enjoy things. If every good and perfect gift is from God, I believe it is our responsibility to appropriately appreciate good and perfect gifts. But that begs the question: What constitutes good and perfect? “The greatest of these is love.” The rich, young ruler comes to Jesus discouraged and asks how to have peace (or eternal life). Jesus tells him, “sell everything and give it all to the poor.” I have known Christians to run from this passage for fear that something might be expected of them. I’m not suggesting that every Christian should cash out their 401k and their investment portfolio, give it to the poor, and relocate to the street but if you have love the thought shouldn’t be offensive or unimaginable.

I tend toward extremes. Campaigning for Ride:Well Tour has presently gotten my brain and heart in knots. I am conflicted. At Wal-Mart, I’ll eye a $15 Wii game but then I hear this voice reminding me that with the same money I could provide 15 Africans with water for one year. I walk away frustrated. I haven’t been as motivated to rent a movie from Redbox either. My entire concept of a good deal is under direct assault. I’m not convinced that extremes are so terrible. Jesus’ life and ministry were the most extreme.

I only wish I knew how to enjoy things again.

About Chase Livingston
  • Matt

    Great(?) words, Chase. File under #what-we-need-to-think-about-but-dont-want-to.

    I think one of the main points we need to consider is that we are not to be slaves to anything but the Holy Spirit. Or to put it another way, we are not to be controlled by anything other than the Spirit of God in us.

    Obviously an alcoholic is a slave to alcohol, but I think this applies to more than our everyday “addictions”. I can be just as controlled by my desire to watch “Lost”. But I don’t think you can just ask, “Is there something better I could be doing with my time?” As you suggest, that continually leads to frustration and guilt.

    I (and probably most people at this site) think there is value in engaging and thinking critically about our culture. But one of the dangers is that we can lose proper perspective if we are not careful. I struggle with this daily, and want to guard against becoming too comfortable in a “foreign land”. I think Paul said it best: I need to “consider all things rubbish” compared to knowing Christ.


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