One of the most insightful books I've read in the past ten years is The Journey of Desire by John Eldredge. I think that Eldredge's basic premise is dead-on: Sin has distorted our humanity; yet we still have the same appetites for eternity we always had.
In other words, there is in all of us a desire for something better, something different, something more. We sense that this craving is rooted in how life should be. An old song by Randy Stonehill, which I'm fond of quoting, says, "Like a child who dreams of flying, we ache for something more; we hold a dim remembrance of an ancient golden shore." Truth be known, what we really want is eternity in fellowship with God and others, the life for which we were made. God put that desire in all of us!
But sin causes us to chase after what were once "good dreams" (C.S. Lewis' phrase) in distorted ways. The condition of sin drives us inward, rather than upward to God or outward to our neighbor.
As a consequence, our dreams can become nightmares of deeply selfish ambitions and susceptibility to the carnival barker (or internal voice) telling us that the latest gadget, the newest book, the drug everyone is doing, or whatever, will fill that ache.
We're hungry for eternity; but we settle for filling ourselves with spiritual junk food.
We want the God Who lives forever; we settle for stuff that wears out, dies out, rusts out, and gives out.
Dan, over at A Slower Pace, is doing a series on the habits he's adopting to maintain a slower pace of living. He rightly points out that his sixth habit--When you go to purchase ANYTHING, ask yourself "Is this a NEED or a WANT?"--dovetails with my post on The Seventh Commandment, "You shall not steal."
Dan’s post is really good and I recommend it to you. Presently, there's a big push to dramatically expand gambling in Ohio and many, including myself, are horrified at the way in which the gaming industry lures people into financial loss through the false promise of wealth. (Even though the Lottery Commission here adds a hypocritical, “Play responsibly” message to every commercial.)
But it strikes me that a lot of advertising for ordinary goods and services is just as deceptive. Things we don't need are hawked as the very items that will bring us fulfillment, success, and of course, sex. Jesus taught us to pray for our daily bread, by which I think He meant our everyday needs. The basic message of advertising is, "More"; but God tells us "My grace is sufficient." In a consumerist culture, these are hard things to remember.
None of this is to say that we should just settle for lives of poverty or that we shouldn't have ambitions for bettering our lives in other ways. Nor is it to disdain those who have the ability to make money; some people are really gifted at this and I believe that it too, is a gift from God that God can help us to use in positive ways. But when we're focused on what we need, rather than what we want, God can free us to pursue the life He has in mind for us, a life that expresses our specific personalities, gifts, talents, and passions.
There's a guy I've known since we were in junior high school. When my wife and I were first married and he was first married to his wife, we all lived in the same apartment complex. (My wife, in fact, introduced that couple to each other, who were married the year before us. That means that they'll soon be married thirty-three years and we're soon to celebrate our thirty-second anniversary.) We spent a lot of time together in those early years.
We hadn't seen this guy for awhile when, after I had come to faith in Christ, we had dinner together. I was still trying to figure out what I wanted to be when I grew up. (Today, at age 52, I'm trying to figure out if I'm going to grow up.) But I had an inner peace.
My friend told me after dinner. "You've changed, Mark. All those years I knew you, you seemed to be flailing, anxious to make people like you, looking for something. I don't see that now. You seem content with yourself, more sure of your place in life."
Consumerist culture doesn't want you to be content. What God has been teaching this sometimes reluctant pupil for the past thirty years is that when the God we know in Jesus Christ becomes the object of our desires, He gives us a better life than we could possibly imagine...even in the rough and painful times.
Go read Dan's post.
[By the way, I think that advertising can glorify God and that God gifts some people with a creativity geared to advertising. But I do think that in many ways, advertising is geared to offering false hopes that goods and services (gods and services?) can't deliver.]
[Thanks to Successful Christian for linking to this post.]