Let’s face it, stuff can be a problem. We are body/ soul beings. (I don’t like to say we “have” bodies because we really are a “package deal” of body-and-soul together in this life—and the one to come!) As a result, we need food, shelter and clothing and have to deal with economic realities. But is it okay to enjoy our things? To have and do nice things? There is a strong streak of asceticism in Christian tradition, in which people abstain from or minimize material and sensual pleasures in order to express their spiritual commitment. This is very personal matter that some really find a struggle, and many have never considered.
I was leaving church at lunchtime one afternoon when a young mom I’ll call Jen saw me unlock my car. “That’s your car?” she exclaimed (Yes, that’s an unusual word to describe her speech, but she sounded alarmed).
“Sure is,” I said, with a bit of chuckle, confused by her excitement.
“That’s not… but that’s not a pastor’s car!” she said with a sense of disappointment.
She was joking, right? She had to be. But she wasn’t. My mind was racing (no pun intended) for a spiritual response. All I could come up with, “It’s a gift.”
You see, my wife, Sarah, is all about gifts and grace and spoiling people, especially me. For my 50th birthday she got an amazing deal on a seven-year old German import convertible by purchasing it from a very close friend. It cost far less than a new Toyota Corolla or similar “affordable” car. Sarah knew I would never buy a car like that for myself—but how could I refuse her gift?
So there I was, standing next to this love-gift, this grace-gift, from my wife, feeling judged by a member of our congregation. Like I had to defend my wife’s expression of love and care?
I have honestly blanked on the rest of my conversation with Jen, if there was any. But I’ve never forgotten the sting of her comment. It made me do some soul-searching, to be sure. I am one who is quick to feel guilty. I spend a lot of time in the tension between enjoying God’s good creation and not being captive to materialism.
I thought of Paul’s words to Timothy in response to those who were teaching against marriage and the enjoyment of various foods.
“For everything created by God is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with thanksgiving, for it is made holy by the word of God and prayer” (1 Timothy 4:4-5 ESV).
There is certainly a basis for drawing the principle from this passage that there are definitely times and places for good stuff. And we also have Paul’s exhortation to the “rich,” in which he does not condemn their wealth per se, but encourages them to look beyond their own well-being and enjoyment.
“As for the rich in this present age, charge them not to be haughty, nor to set their hopes on the uncertainty of riches, but on God, who richly provides us with everything to enjoy. They are to do good, to be rich in good works, to be generous and ready to share, thus storing up treasure for themselves as a good foundation for the future, so that they may take hold of that which is truly life” (1 Timothy 6:17-19 ESV).
If you really want to wrestle with this more deeply, start with Romans 14:1-5. But for now, let me just say I thank God for the goodness of life and seek to enjoy that goodness and share it with others. How about you?