JVIM Weekly Newsletter
THE MYTHS OF OUR AGE
Dr. Rexella Van Impe
We are living in an age unlike any in the history of mankind. The last century alone saw more scientific and technological advancement than all the rest of history combined. Today we take for granted things that were but science fiction just a decade ago. Yet despite all this-perhaps because of it-our society as a whole may be more Baffled, Bewildered, & Befuddled than ever before.
When asked what it would take to satisfy them, most people respond with a list of things.
Money, luxury items, cars, vacations, entertainment-these are what come to mind first when contemporary man thinks of being satisfied. How far from true satisfaction we have strayed!
This week we want to look at two myths of our age, that of instant gratification and materialism and then deal the myth of prestige next week.
The myth of instant gratification
One fallacy that has worked its way firmly into the fabric of modern reasoning is the belief that we can be most fulfilled when the gratification of our needs and desires is immediate. I call this the myth of instant gratification. We have become conditioned to expect on-the-spot results from everything. There is instant coffee, instant milk, instant potatoes, instant rice, instant printing, and instant photography. If one doesn’t have a digital camera that takes and prints instant snapshots, he can take his film to a place that will develop it and make color prints in less than an hour! Even banks have 24-hour electronic tellers so that we don’t have to wait until the facility opens. And we can even send packages across the country through a number of overnight delivery services.
There is nothing inherently wrong with any of these things. In fact, I gladly use such services and am thankful that they are available when I need them. But overnight delivery and 24-hour ATMs are the mild side of our obsession with getting things we want without having to wait. It also has an ugly side.
We cringe and are grieved at the growing phenomenon of drug abuse throughout all levels of society, as people look for a pill or an injection or some kind of stimulant that will instantly make them feel good. Yet, we often fail to see the connection between this kind of behavior and the elusive promise of instant gratification that beckons to us along every avenue of life.
We shake our heads in dismay when we read of a con man who defrauds needy people out of thousands of dollars in some get-rich-quick scheme. But isn’t the greed of both the con man and his victims really just an extension of the mentality that causes people to put themselves into unmanageable debt because they want something now and do not wish to wait for it? Yes, we all must come to the realization that our pursuit of instant gratification is destroying our society like a cancer.
Luke 15 relates the familiar story of the prodigal son, who, like so many today, wanted instant wealth. Anxious to do his own thing and experience life for himself, he refused to wait for that which would be his in due time. He wanted what was coming to him now.
His father gave him his inheritance, and the young man immediately began squandering it in mad pursuit of instant gratification. He traveled abroad and became caught up in the "action" of his day. "Eat, drink, and be merry," he thought, "for tomorrow we die." This humanistic philosophy of the ages quickly became his mindset and the motivating force in his life.
Then the bottom fell out of everything. An economic crisis struck the land, and he suddenly found himself far from home. Dejected and bewildered, he was forced to accept the most menial of tasks just to exist, and his heart longed for what he once had and took for granted-the love and security of his father’s home. As he thought on his foolish selfishness and wrongdoing, he made the most important decision of his life: I will arise and go to my father, and will say unto him, Father, I have sinned against heaven, and before thee, and am no more worthy to be called thy son: make me as one of thy hired servants (Luke 15:18, 19).
Modern man is not different from that young man, except that instead of coming to his senses, acknowledging his misdeeds, and turning from them, he continues blindly onward, baffled, bewildered, and befuddled. He never seems to learn that instant gratification is generally also fleeting and seldom truly satisfying.
The myth of materialism
We have become hypnotized by the myth of materialism-the belief that material things are the source of true satisfaction. However, this is an empty and dehumanizing philosophy in which things become more important than people, beauty more desired than virtue, power more respected than character, and status more prestigious than integrity. Consequently, we find ourselves foolishly pursuing the very things that God has said make being close to Him more difficult and sometimes impossible.
Although most of us do enjoy some added pleasures to our lives above and beyond our basic needs, we must ask ourselves one important question-do they control us? As Detroit News staff writer Chuck Bennett stated: "Let’s be honest-we all love material things. At least most of us do, even if we can only dream about having them. And it seems once we begin to get a taste of them, even with one little item, we want more. Yesterday’s luxury becomes today’s frill and tomorrow’s necessity; no matter what level we’re at, we want something better."
Mr. Bennett has captured the essence of man’s obsession with the material. The main problem is the obvious-we never seem to have enough. When a person becomes a millionaire, he soon finds himself wanting to become a billionaire. On a lesser level, others have their hearts set on obtaining larger houses, finer automobiles, additional income, more power, and more prestige. Instead of rejoicing and being thankful for what God has given them or allowed them to accomplish, they become consumed with a desire for still more and believe that they need it to be happy. The result is bondage.
Have you heard of the Quaker who wanted to teach a great lesson to his friends and neighbors? He had a large sign printed and put up on the vacant lot next to his house. The sign said: "I will give the deed to this lot to anyone who is absolutely contented." Applicants were directed to apply next door at his home.
There was a man of great wealth living in the community, and as he drove by and saw the sign, he stopped. He thought to himself, "If there is anyone in our area who is absolutely contented it is I. I have everything that I could possibly want." So he went to the Quaker’s house and knocked on the door.
The Quaker came to the door, and the man said, "I read the sign you placed on the vacant lot next door. I understand you want to give it to anyone who is contented."
"Yes," said the Quaker.
"I think I am absolutely contented, " the man replied. "I will be glad if you will make out the deed to me."
"Friend, if thou art contented, what dost thou want with my lot?" the Quaker asked.
The Jewish Talmud says that man is born with his hands clenched, but he dies with his hands wide open.
How tragically empty are riches and possessions! Perhaps you have had the experience of wanting something for a long time. Maybe it was a car or a house or something less-but you desired to have it so much that it was all you could think about. You saved for it, planned for it, hoped for it, and dreamed about it. But when you finally got it, after a time you found it to be disappointingly unfulfilling.
On the other hand, some have fallen prey to the notion that self-deprivation is the quickest and easiest path to spirituality. Such reasoning is equally fallacious and can result in a lifetime of despair and bewilderment .
A few years ago during a meeting we were conducting in Atlanta, a young girl came and asked me to make an announcement concerning a local Christian ministry for runaway young people. She wanted me to tell any such persons who might be present that they would be welcome to seek help from her group. Wanting to find out more about this ministry, I asked, "What do you do with the runaways who come to you seeking help?"
"Well," she said, "we just come together and stay and have fellowship."
"How do you get food?" I asked. "How do you support your ministry?"
"We just ask God for it," she replied.
"You mean you don’t work?"
"No," she answered, amazed that I would ask such a question. "We just live there."
Further investigation revealed that the "ministry" she wanted me to promote was a communal group who went out to shopping centers and street corners and stopped people to ask for money. Members of the group were not encouraged to seek employment or to return home, nor were they learning anything of value as far as I could tell. In fact, their lifestyle was characterized more by slothfulness than by anything else. I lovingly explained to my youthful inquirer that the Bible teaches ...if any would not work, neither should he eat (2 Thessalonians 3:10). God has promised to meet our needs but He has also commanded us to be diligent, hard working, and wise in our stewardship.
Those who center their thoughts on the temporal, as well as those who refuse to acknowledge that material possessions should occupy a place in one’s life, cannot be truly satisfied. And neither group is truly wealthy, no matter how much or how little they have.
Scripture is consistent in its teaching that the love of money is the root of all evil (1 Timothy 6:10). However, this passage is often misquoted and misapplied. Please notice that it does not say that money is the root of all evil. Rather, it is the love of money-the placing of material things above the more important things in life-that brings the piercing of oneself through with many sorrows. God can, and often does, reward our faithfulness to Him and His service with material blessings.
Upon his appointment as King of Israel, Solomon asked God for an understanding heart to judge thy people, that I may discern between good and bad (1 Kings 3:9). Because he sought the Lord and others before himself, God not only granted Solomon’s request but also added, I have also given thee that which thou has not asked, both riches, and honor (v. 13).
Likewise, Job, who suffered great losses, trials, and pain, remained faithful to God, and ...the Lord blessed the latter end of Job more than his beginning (Job 42:12).
Certainly, Godliness with contentment is great gain (1 Timothy 6:6), and as we have clearly seen, it is not how much one possesses that makes him great in God’s eyes and satisfied in life.
To the contrary, it is whether or not he allows his possessions to possess him! Those who are truly wealthy are those who have discovered the spiritual riches and deep satisfaction that comes through a life of surrender to God.
You can view past issues of the JVIM Weekly Newsletter by going to: http://www.jvim.com/newsletter/