One of the responses I’ve gotten from my recent grenade launch against foodolatry and healtholatry is that I don’t like people liking stuff very much. Of course if you read the posts, you’ll find that such sentiment is entirely absent from my argument.
But just to make it crystal clear, I would actually take the whole thing a step further. God made this world and He loaded it with glory, and He wants us to love His glory displayed everywhere. But since we’re finite creatures, we cannot delight in all of His glory all the time so it’s absolutely necessary that we find different chunks of His world and pitch our tents there. So it’s our job to find some gold mine of God’s glory and start digging. Some people set up shop in the auto section, some are really into guns, some are really into food, some are really into peanut butter (obviously a glory deserving a category of its own). Since God made all that stuff and gave it to us, it’s part of His glory to see us use it, enjoy it, and take pleasure in it. To paraphrase John Piper, God is most glorified when Jim Gaffigan makes us laugh until tears run down our cheeks and our bellies ache.
So if God gives you pleasure in running, then you should run (lots). If God gave you the gift of making peanut butter pies, you should definitely do that (and share). If tinkering with stuff brings joy to your heart, you should tinker like there’s no tomorrow. If God gave you gifts of humor, gifts of artistic skill, gifts of storytelling, gifts of medicine and healing, gifts of musical ability, gifts of evangelism and preaching, then embracing those gifts, giving yourself to those pursuits in obedience to God is true humility and the greatest blessing to God’s people. It is Kingdom building and culture transforming.
All my warnings are not about rejecting the good gifts of God. In fact, I’d argue that they are warnings against missing the good gifts of God. I’m talking about trading your true gifts in for dollar store knock offs because your gifts don’t happen to the be the latest, hippest, trendiest fads on the block. This probably happens in a number of ways, but as I tried to state in a few different ways, just cause somebody says they like something a lot doesn’t mean they’re embracing the gifts of God rightly. I’m concerned about the snarl in your voice, the way you’re cranky with your husband or the kids, the pontificating to your friends, the way you fly your flag. The problem isn’t that you’re into stuff. The problem is that I don’t believe you. And the reason I don’t believe you is because your joy is only paper thin if it’s there at all. Otherwise, your speech is full of complaints, full of fear, and most telling, when a pastor suggests you might do an idol inventory, you pull a Bilbo-Baggins-in-the-grip-of-the-Ring and lasers shoot out of your eyes and your fangs shimmer in the moonlight. Just saying. Of course I’m not going around squinty-eyed, doubting everybody. Jeepers, people, I’ve got five kids in my house and a bad memory. Which I’m pretty sure is a worse condition than ADHD. And all that to say, at worst, I’m not eyeing anybody suspiciously for more than 10 seconds. And besides I lost my mind-reading skills years ago.
All I’m saying is that there’s a way of being “into stuff” that’s totally God-glorifying, saint-edifying, and is way committed, and involves many sacrifices (think the chef, think the musician, think the athlete, think the author, think the medical professional, think anything worth doing well). And when these people do what they’re called to, do what they’re gifted with, they have deep peace and joy. Sure, there are hard days, there are long days, there can be deep disappointments, but the joy of Jesus, the joy of salvation, the joy of forgiveness is the ocean beneath the island of their life. But there’s another way of aping this same thing. These are the posers, the wannabes, the insecurity freaks. The Bible calls them Pharisees, hypocrites. They wear the uniform. They cop the style. They learn the lingo. They pretend to love what they see others loving because they want to belong, they want meaning, they don’t want to miss out.
This is the peer pressure problem. God made you in His image, and this means that He made you for community. But just like the Triune community, each person has a unique role to play. When you are mindlessly following the herd, you are in danger of not using your gifts, your loves, your perspective. When I see mass obsessions with being “alternative,” being “different,” I’m annoyed because of the hypocrisy (yeah, you and all 50 million of the rest), but also because I see that as a waste of the unique contributions that many could be giving to the body. Are you worried about the milk you’re drinking because you care about milk or because you’re afraid that your friends will think you’re a bad mom? Why are you obsessed with alternative medicine? Is it because you’re really genuinely interested or are you like the guys who obsess over indie bands with three fans (not including their moms) because you get your sense of security and meaning and value from being the source for others?
But secondly, the flip side of this, the God-glorifying side of this is called godly imitation and following the examples of godly mentors. The Bible is clear about this. The Bible calls it discipleship. The problem comes when everybody’s playing little kid hide-and-seek games. You know, how little kids play hide-and-seek, right? They stand in some obvious spot in the middle of the room and cover their eyes. Somehow they think if they can’t see you, you can’t see them. It’s actually cute and endearing on 2 year olds. It’s embarrassing and troubling in 25 and 30 year olds. They go fawning over their intellectual, cultural, culinary heroes, and then when somebody says something about it, their faces go blank and confused: huh? what are you talking about? I totally just came up with this skinny jean thing on my own. Just came to me in the shower one day. And my cranky vaccination policy? Yeah, totally random.
Now here’s the deal, apparently some people got the impression from my posts that I’m against all things organic, locally grown, gluten-free, or any kind of care or concern for health whatsoever. From some of the responses, you could get the impression that I was cheerleading for McDonalds, Walmart, Monsanto, and treat the FDA, USDA, and American Medical Association like some kind of sacred golden calf and inspired scriptures. But the fact is my entire point was not allowing any pontificating to trump Jesus and His Scripture, whether mainstream sources like The Gap and Planned Parenthood or chiropractors and voodoo granola yoga masters.
But here’s my point: no matter the source, mainstream or alternative, the same principles apply. You can do your shopping, your eating, your dressing, your treating like a hamster running on one of those wheels, getting nowhere, getting your meaning, your fulfillment from the way people affirm you, from the number of likes you get, from the number of people looking up to you — or you can you can find your identity in Jesus. Because we still live in the flesh, Christians will struggle with this war in their own bodies, minds, and souls throughout their lives, but there’s an enormous difference between fighting the good fight and playing footsie with your fears.
All of this to say, you don’t love stuff enough. Idolatry is not merely a full-sale conversion to Zeus worship. Idols show up in the saddle bags, idols get packed up and brought out of Egypt, even symbols of true salvation can become superstitious shrines. But this is to swear by the gold on the temple. This is to obsess over the gifts in a way that narrows our vision, clamps down on our hearts, and shrinks our loves. But God came down into our flesh, into this world. He knit Himself a body like ours and began to expand this world from the inside. The problem with sin, the problem with death is that it’s a shrinking disease, sucking everything in and down. So God took on flesh and went down into that black hole, and reversed the whole project. When Jesus walked out of the tomb that first Easter, He began to make this world bigger on the inside and He began to give us hearts that might love like He loves.
God’s grace is invading this entire world which is to say, His infinite joy is filling all things. God so loved this world that He gave His only-begotten Son. The problem isn’t that we love things too much. The problem is that we don’t love them enough. But the Virgin has given birth, and now this world can’t stop repeating the sounding joy. It’s an echo that will never die, an echo that will one day break out into earth shattering song.
And so, Merry Christmas, y’all.