Several years ago there were ads on TV showing an egg being fried to a crisp in a hot pan with the voice over saying “This is your brain on drugs.” I’ve never seen a similar promotion about your brain on advertising, but advertising can be as harmful to your spiritual life as drugs are to your physical life.
We live in a world defined by Madison Avenue. Advertisers tell us that we should get everything we want when we want it because we deserve it. The most popular television shows are reality shows that allow us to put ourselves in the place of the contestants as they vie for big money and exotic trips. If we could only own this or that, have more money or drive that car then we would finally be happy.
Easy credit can provide whatever we desire. We are influenced to think that having more things means a better life, which leads us to want everything we see. The more we watch TV, surf the net, read magazines and listen to the radio, the more money we spend in an unending quest to be happy. Commercials barrage us with almost non-stop advertising – it’s everywhere! We even wear advertising on our clothes.
Yet are these messages about buying, getting and having stuff really giving us the happiness we crave and can only find in God?
We’ve lost the ability to distinguish between needs and wants. Needs are food, clothing, and shelter. Wants are restaurant meals, the latest fashions, the biggest house and the newest gadgets.
When we listen to the loud insistent voice of our culture we go spinning into cycles of wanting everything which often causes us to buy things we don’t really need. We get into debt for these unnecessary things and the debt causes us worry and stress. To relieve the worry and stress, we buy more stuff and we feel good temporarily until the credit card statements arrive then we are again consumed with worry. The cycle goes on and on.
When we fall into this trap, we are focusing our desires and betting our happiness on worldly objects and not on God. We are making these worldly objects our “strange god” and making them more important than God.
Matthew (19:16-30), Mark (10:17-31) and Luke (18:18-30) all contain the parable of the Rich Young Man, where Jesus explains that our attitude towards wealth and possessions is in conflict with where our true focus should be. The young man in the parable has faithfully observed the Commandments and asks Jesus what else he can do to gain eternal life. Like most of us, the young man yearns for life in its fullest. He thinks that he may be able to use his wealth to purchase eternal happiness.
Jesus understands the young man’s attitude, his dependence on, and attachment to, his wealth and possessions. Jesus’ advice is that he must sell all of his possessions, give his money to the poor and then follow him. In following Jesus’ advice, the rich young man’s treasure and his heart will no longer be on earth, and he will put God above all else. When the young man heard this, he turned away because he was very rich. He was focused on wealth and temporal happiness as opposed to eternal happiness.
Many of us would probably display the same sentiments as the rich young man. We have many possessions and these possessions are of great importance to us. Like this young man, if Jesus came into our lives today and told us to sell all that we had and give all the money to the poor, there is every possibility we would also turn away.
Jesus goes on to tell the disciples, “How hard it is for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God.” This amazed the disciples and so Jesus goes a little further in his explanation, “For it is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God.”
However, the problem is not in being rich. In fact, there are many rich people in the Bible, such as Abraham, Jacob, Samuel, Job and David, whom God blessed. The problem is our attitude when worldly things become more important to us than God. Society tells us that only things can bring us true happiness. When we believe this, we forsake God for our possessions.
One of the most misquoted verses in the Bible is 1 Timothy 6:10: “For the love of money is the root of all evils, and some people in their desire for it have strayed from the faith and have pierced themselves with many pains.” Money is not evil, it’s the love of money which causes problems. Money is simply a tool we use as a medium of exchange. What can lead us toward evil is our attitude towards money, especially when money and things take on a greater importance than they deserve.
Wealth and possessions will never make us happy for long. A few short days or weeks after we purchase that “must have” item, it becomes just another thing we own and we “must have” something else to fill the void.
“No one can serve two masters. He will either hate one and love the other, or be devoted to one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and mammon [money].” (Matthew 6:24)