As 2007 rapidly draws to a close, the web and other media outlets are abuzz with a flurry of predictions about 2008. From $5/gallon gasoline to the American presidential race to war in the Middle East, it seems everyone has something to say about the year that hasn’t even yet begun. Regardless of what you read, however, the predictions (no matter how seemingly far-fetched) often breed more anxiety than comfort…even for those whose hope rests on Christ. The situation is perfect for my last post on Bonhoeffer’s Cost of Discipleship (at least for a while). This time, let us take a quick look at his chapter on the last few verses of Matthew 6 titled, “The Simplicity of the Carefree Life.”
Bonhoeffer begins with his typically engrossing prose and writes:
The life of discipleship can only be maintained so long as nothing is allowed to come between Christ and ourselves-neither the law, nor personal piety, nor even the word. The disciple always looks only to his master, never to Christ and the law, Christ and religion, Christ and the world.
So far, so good. It doesn’t take long though until we reach this bombshell, which drops from the sky onto our spoiled American selves like a twenty megaton nuclear blast:
Worldly possessions tend to turn the hearts of the disciples away from Jesus…Earthy goods are given to be used, not to be collected…Where our treasure is, there is our trust, our security, our consolation and our God. Hoarding is idolatry. But where are we to draw the line between legitimate use and unlawful accumulation? Let us reverse the word of Jesus and our question is answered: ‘Where thy heart is, there shall thy treasure be also.’ Our treasure may of course be small and inconspicuous, but its size is immaterial; it all depends on the heart, on ourselves. And if we ask how we are to know where our hearts are, the answer is just simple-everything which hinders us from loving God above all things and acts as a barrier between ourselves and our obedience to Jesus is our treasure.
Ouch! It’s almost like Bonhoeffer knows how many thousands of dollars we have all spent on Christmas gifts, knows all about us with our over-stocked pantries and ‘nothing to eat,’ knows about our uniquely American need for storage units, knows all about our rampant consumerism (even in Church!)…and knows about how any of these things fails to bring true, lasting peace and, as a result, leaves a great portion of our population medicated for hyper-tension, depression, anxiety, insomnia and the like.
“Jesus does not forbid the possession of property itself,” Bonhoeffer writes, “He was man, he ate and drank like his disciples, and thereby sanctified the good things of life.” We mustn’t advocate some kind of monastic asceticism, though Bonhoeffer does, but at the same time his words must indeed sound a chord to which we must listen. “Earthly possessions dazzle our eyes and delude us into thinking that they can provide security and freedom from anxiety. Yet all the time they are the very source of our anxiety.”
As Americans (and more properly, I think, Westerners), we have amassed an amazing amount of wealth and a life of ease unmatched in human history. Contrary to the personalities that preach to us through our televisions, do we really think that God would bless us solely for the purpose that we might enjoy his blessing or even return a chunk of it to the church? Surely not! He has blessed us mightily, indeed, not that we might simply buy bigger houses, more expensive cars, and larger storage units but that we might in turn be blessings to others as we care for those less fortunate souls in our neighborhoods and around the world.
With respect to peace:
The only way to win assurance is by leaving tomorrow entirely in the hands of God and by receiving from him all we need for today…Either it is an intolerable law, which men will reject with indignation; or it is the unique proclamation of the gospel of glorious liberty of the children of God, who have a Father in heaven, a Father who has given his beloved Son. How shall not God with him also freely give us all things?
With the predictions for the new year somewhat alarmist and unsettling, what will we do, Christians? Will we continue in our idolatry by amassing wealth and sacrificing peace, or will we heed Jesus’ challenge to store up our treasures in heaven and find true security in him? Let us choose the more difficult, latter, choice, for we can be certain of our Heavenly Father’s perfectly good care for us, his children. In Bonhoeffer’s words, “The Christian also knows that he not only cannot and dare not be anxious, but that there is also no need for him to be so.”
The peace of Christ be with you all in 2008!