In his recent op-ed, David Brooks chastised the Religious Right. [New York Times, The Next Culture War]. And, in my mind, he was correct to do so.
We pick up our abortion signs. We preach judgment on “liberals.” We stand “at the pole” to promote prayer in schools. We argue at the Supreme Court for First Amendment rights.
But, when it comes to economic values, where have we been? With our myopic focus on the social and moral legislation of our country, we have ignored the personal obedience and self-denial that is required in the Christian life. Consider:
- Why do we amass debt if we believe that this life is fleeting? “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth … but store up for yourselves treasures in heaven.” [Matthew 6:19-21, NIV].
- Why do we pursue our own happiness in goods and toys outside of Christ and the cross? “And [Jesus] said to all, ‘If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it. For what does it profit a man if he gains the whole word and loses or forfeits himself?'” [Luke 9:23, ESV].
As we have pointed our finger at Washington or New York and told them that the problem lies there, we have ignored what lies within. Rather than disciplining or denying ourselves over the past few years, we have spent more (until we have exploded). As Brooks points out:
In the three decades between 1950 and 1980, personal consumption was remarkably stable, amounting to about 62 percent of G.D.P. In the next three decades, it shot upward, reaching 70 percent of G.D.P. in 2008. During this period, debt exploded. In 1960, Americans’ personal debt amounted to about 55 percent of national income. By 2007, Americans’ personal debt had surged to 133 percent of national income.
When I read the Brooks op-ed, I was ashamed of myself. How often have I spoken of the “big issues” in politics while I have ignored the seemingly “small issues” of my own personal obedience?
Have we missed our opportunity to demonstrate the beauty of a life of self-denial? Is it too late to show that we love the Lord so much that we do not need the “riches” of this world more than the “riches” of the one to come because, for us, “to live is Christ and to die is gain”?