It poisons us. As surely as incremental cyanide will kill a person, so the abundance of our lives sears the souls of many of us.
There’s a deep irony at work.
Historically, we might argue that authentic Christianity produces deeper morality and, often, greater physical prosperity. Where integrity matters and generosity abounds, people prosper. Yes, we can find plenty of exceptions, but perhaps they prove the rule.
However, we might also observe that when prosperity turns into abundance, spiritual health declines. It’s a weird cycle. Spiritual strength leads to material well-being—think community more than individual—which may then lead to spiritual poverty.
Access to excess hurts us deeply.
Consider Jesus who had no place to lay His head, and certainly no place to call His own. (Matthew 8:20) As His followers, we consider ourselves to have succeeded when we outdo Him in this area, and fulfill the American dream of home ownership. Jesus sent out His disciples on their mission and restricted them to one tunic and little else. (Matthew 10:10)
We spend our lives accumulating more and more, and celebrating it.
I’m not against material possessions, as such. God has created the world for us to enjoy and to steward. The “stuff” is not inherently bad. However, the deeper we descend into excess, the farther we are from the heart of God in a world where bare subsistence remains the norm for the masses.
A student of mine shared the phrase “access to excess” in an online discussion, and it got hold of me.
Rather than celebrating the abundance, perhaps we need warning signs posted over and around it. The comfort and security it offers is illusory at best. And rather than serve us, material excess often lulls us into spiritual lethargy. The “plenty” becomes “not enough” and our passion for Christ dwindles as our material appetite expands.
The ancient spiritual discipline of simplicity included a commitment to distributive justice—living simply that others might simply live. Have we abandoned such endeavors? When does “enough” become “too much” for my spiritual well-being? When does my material independence actually produce spiritual impotence?
When our “access to excess” turns into private joy rather than public service, our asset sheets may be far healthier than our hearts. Let’s consider it prayerfully.