“God made us to love people and use things. Why is it that we so often love things and use people?” (Calvin Miller)
Miller’s question unearths a common distortion of our day. He identifies a disturbing trend. We have formed a culture that places supreme value on usefulness, and little value on love. We have become enamored with the material and reluctant about the relational.
The secular philosopher and ethicist Peter Singer advocates utilitarianism—usefulness—as the chief cornerstone for making ethical decisions. In his view, the right decision is whatever we consider most helpful to the most people (and most helpful to us). He dismisses love and reduces everything to usefulness. And while some of his conclusions horrify many of us—supporting euthanasia and selective abortion, among other things—he simply extends the common view to its logical conclusion. People only matter to the extent that they serve our purposes.
We love “things” because they require little or nothing of us. To love money, possessions, or even organizations (yes, and churches) requires little of us. It’s so much easier than loving people. “Things” don’t argue with us, disagree with us, challenge us, or correct us. “Things” let us do whatever we like.
So, we love things and use people, distancing ourselves from the stories, needs, feelings, or views of others. This simple switch, described by Miller, creates an artificial bubble of safety around us, provides us with a superficial sense of control, and eliminates a great deal of inconvenience. It also leaves us isolated, disconnected, and empty.
The church can easily nurture this same distortion.
No longer do we share messy life experiences as we love one another. Instead, we are challenged to be part of a “higher cause,” a vision bigger than ourselves or each other. We may use the language of love—“loving God; loving others” or some such slogan—but our actions (at times) may reflect a recruiting drive more than pastoral engagement. The organization assumes greater importance than the individual people.
We increasingly tend to love things and use people.
What might we glean from revisiting and reviewing the life of the One who owned virtually nothing, built virtually nothing, but gave Himself totally to those around Him?
The gospel grows increasingly counter-cultural.