On materialism

Psalm 135:15-20

“The idols of the nations are silver and gold,
and made by human hands.
They have mouths, but do not speak;
eyes, but cannot see.
They have ears, but do not hear
nor is there breath in their mouths.
All those who make them will be like them
and so will all those who trust in them.”

When I was young, and I learned about false idols in the context of Christianity, I always envisioned a golden ox. Or perhaps when I learned about eastern thought, I thought of a fat, little round-bellied statue.  My juvenile self thought about people bowing to these statues, and about God being angry and jealous because the worshipers had created their own representation of a god to worship. I never considered that an idol could take a form other than a statue or an altar.

Today, I know the reality is far more nefarious.  We all create our own false idols, and they can take many forms. One of my greatest failings has been materialism.  I don’t actually believe that material goods have any power.  But it is one thing to say that I understand that material goods are not a god, and another thing entirely to stop worshiping them with my actions. I have pursued them, I have felt envy for them, and I have lusted after them. I have blindly tried to heal my heart and soul by filling the void I felt with goods, instead of filling it with Good.  The problem with that, of course, is that by filling my soul with material goods, my soul became nothing but a collection of material goods.  Just as those things have no soul, and no breath of life, so neither did my heart.

I have hoarded and protected them as though they could give me meaning.  I have clung to them as though keeping them close would keep me warm.  But there was no depth, and no warmth.  I have chased them, and I have neglected other aspects of my life to acquire them, but my life will not be an hour longer because of them.

We live in a culture that makes impossible a total rejection of consumerism. We must buy things occasionally. But I have blurred the line between things that I wanted and things that I needed, and this is a source of great shame for me.

Partly because I had been filling my holes with meaningless assets and holdings, I did not have any room in my soul for God.  This was the height of stupidity.  When I was thumbing through some Psalms two nights ago, the above stanza of Psalm 135 caught my eye, and planted the seeds of this writing. I had never considered that my materialism could be false idolatry, nor had I considered that my “worship” of these things could harden my soul, making me as lifeless as my possessions.  They have no magic, and neither did I. Clinging to them with such fervor also closed me off to the world, I think.

I was raised in a house of collectors and hoarding.  My parents were similarly raised by people who did the same. Though it’s no excuse, it likewise became my nature to collect and hoard. This was blind, and it was blinding.

For me, it is a great relief to accept that these possessions cannot ever bring me true joy. Once I accept that, I can also accept that I am not tied to those things, and that losing or giving them away will cost me nothing. They are a sunk cost on my pocket, and I cannot get back the time, money, or effort spent in acquiring them. But they are weighing my soul down, so perhaps loosing myself from their grip will give me some much needed buoyancy and lightness. Ridding my soul of material things will make room for a real thing.

Prayer of the afternoon:

Father above us, Father among us, Father in our hearts, you are the chain-breaker. Please guide me to freedom from my false idols and material possessions, and help me to put my soul’s dedication to your love first, second, and third.

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