Retail experts tell us that more than 140 million shoppers will spend $682 billion over the Black Friday weekend. On average, each shopper spent nearly a thousand dollars.
It seems bizarre that somehow, through some tortuous progression in thinking, our celebration of Christ’s birth has spawned Black Friday and Cyber Monday. It’s strange that our observance of Jesus’ birth — which occurred in a manger among farm animals — now accounts for 30 percent of retail sales, which makes it critical to the national economy.
It seems bizarre that somehow, through some tortuous progression in thinking, our celebration of Christ’s birth has spawned Black Friday and Cyber Monday.
Here’s another statistic: Americans now collectively have a record $1.021 trillion in credit card debt. “This should serve as a wake-up call,” said Matt Schulz, an analyst at CreditCards.com. “Even if you feel your debt is manageable, you could be one emergency away from real trouble.”
Our attitudes about financial responsibility have changed, and those changes have had a burdensome impact on American culture. One economist wrote in the New York Times, “We should not think of [these changes] as a market trend like the rising value of waterfront property, but as something more like the sexual revolution of the 1960s — a relaxation of old strictures, a new permissiveness, but in this case the permissiveness is financial rather than sexual.”
Our thinking about money and its effects on our happiness has a lot to do with our beliefs about God. The German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche accurately predicted that Western cultures would gradually replace God with money. This fixation, he explained, wouldn’t be based on need. Our survival “is by no means precarious.” Nevertheless, “[we] are urged on day and night by a terrible longing and love for these heaps of gold.”
Greed is hard to see in ourselves
Philosophers and theologians have long talked about how the “culture of greed” impoverishes our souls. We know greed is wrong. We even know it’s stupid — and still, we heedlessly spend a trillion dollars we don’t have.
One reason, says New York City pastor Tim Keller, is that greed is hard to see in ourselves. “I’ve had people come to me to confess that they struggle with almost every kind of sin,” Keller says, but, “I cannot recall anyone ever coming to me and saying, “I spend too much money on myself. I think my greedy lust for money is harming my family, my soul, and the people around me.” Greed, Keller says, disguises itself and blinds us to the condition of our hearts.
If you’ve been following the news, you probably think sex is our most enticing idol, but Jesus warns us about greed more often. In Luke 12:15, for example, he tells the crowd: “Watch out! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed.”
If you’ve been following the news, you probably think sex is our most enticing idol, but Jesus warns us about greed more often.
But Jesus never says, “Be careful you aren’t committing adultery!” There’s no need. When you’re in bed with someone else’s spouse, Keller says dryly, you know it. There’s no aha moment where you exclaim, “Wait a minute! I think this is adultery.”
Not just the love of money, but preoccupation with it
But with greed, it rarely occurs to us that we’re the culprits. So, throughout Luke 11 and 12 Jesus warns us about money, and when we hear his words it’s clear that greed is not just the love of money, but our preoccupation with it: Do we have enough? Do we have the right house, car, and clothes? Do we have more than our neighbor?
Jesus knows how we think, so he presses the point, saying, “A man’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions.” Keller explains that we “consist” of our possessions when they define us — when our identity is determined by what we own and what those possessions do for us spiritually and emotionally.
Later, Jesus flatly says: “No servant can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money” (Luke 16:13-15).
We know that we love money when we fantasize about it and the things we’d buy if only we had more. We know that we’re trusting money when it, rather than our faith in God, makes us feel secure. And when Jesus talks about “serving” money, he uses a word that means the solemn, covenantal service rendered to a king.
Money controls us through anxieties and lusts, Keller says. Yet it never delivers on its promises. So, this Christmas, rather than laying up treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy (Matthew 6:19), let’s delight ourselves in the Lord, because ultimately only he can give us the desires of our hearts (Psalm 37:4).