An economy of enough
It is biblically unquestionable that modern materialism is a serious sin.
“Give us this day our daily bread.” – Jesus
“I’m suffering from the affliction of always wanting more.”
– Singer-songwriter Ann Vriend (a line from the song St. Paul from her album When We Were Spies).
The petition in the Lord’s Prayer “Give us this day our daily bread” has always caused me a certain amount of discomfort. Daily bread. Not bread enough for tomorrow, or for a week, a year, or well into retirement. Enough for today. And then just for bread. Certainly not for a 10 oz. steak with a baked potato and all the trimmings, accompanied by a fine glass of cabernet sauvignon topped off with a dessert of Crème Brulé and a small glass of port. Just daily bread.
Now, I know that daily bread is probably just a shorthand metaphor asking God to supply our basic human need for food, clothing and shelter. But then what about a nice car, a vacation cabin, the latest iPhone, or a cruise on the River Seine?
Many years ago, Ron Sider’s book made the argument that no Christian has the moral right to accumulate more wealth than what is needed to lead a modest material lifestyle in the face of glaring world-wide poverty. He agreed that one might well debate what counts for “modest,” and that this might vary somewhat from place to place and culture to culture, but it is biblically unquestionable that modern materialism is a serious sin. For example, taking a $6,000 Caribbean cruise can clearly not be counted as a basic human need, especially when millions of fellow human beings do not have enough to eat or don’t have a roof over their heads. Jesus himself urges us to take serious stock of our earthly material possessions and aspirations so that, on the day of judgement, we will not be like the rich man who had failed to succor Lazarus while on earth, and was thus condemned to a life of post-earthly suffering (Luke 16:19-31).
Wants vs needs
“‘What must I do to inherit eternal life?’ a rich young man asked Jesus one day.
‘Sell everything you have [which you don’t need], give it to the poor and come and follow me.’
With that he became sad; for he was very rich. Jesus looked at him and said, ‘How hard it is for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God’” (Luke 18:18-25).
What about me? Have I confused or conflated wants with needs? How can I practice an economy of enough rather than “suffering from the affliction of always wanting more”? Here is a suggestion: Whenever I’m thinking of buying some desired object or experience, I should do so only if I’m prepared to spend an equal amount of money “on the poor.” Thus I should only go on that $6,000 cruise if I’m also prepared to donate $6,000 to, say, World Renew. If I really can’t afford to do both, then clearly that holiday cruise is just a want and not a need. What else would an economy of enough look like for me? I’m not sure if I have the courage to answer that, for I am very rich.