Abundance: How Much is Too Much?

Last week I was checking citations for my book about the healing power of confession, and it gave me an occasion to revisit some of the essays in Mere ChristianityIt is a collection of radio addresses given by atheist-turned-Christian C.S. Lewis about the lowest common denominator of what it means to be Christian.  He begins the series with commentary on the human tendency to want to hold others to a standard of fair play.  Lewis calls this standard of fair play the Law of Human Nature, but it could also be called a moral compass or a chart that helps us navigate rights and wrongs.  Lewis takes pains to distinguish this Law of Human Nature from human instinct.  All our human instincts are good in the right context and bad in the wrong context, he asserts, so the Law is the set of rules defining what makes them right or wrong.

The so-called seven deadly sins are normal human inclinations, instincts or even gifts taken to excess, distorted or neglected.

  1. Lust distorts bodily expressions of the gift of love.
  2. Gluttony is our bodily need for sustenance taken to excess.
  3. Greed exaggerates material needs often to the point of hostility towards others.
  4. Envy excludes others from the desire for goodness to the point of sorrow for another’s good.
  5. Sloth is our need for rest taken to excess and reflects indifference to our gifts.
  6. Wrath perverts our sense of justice into revenge and spite.  It also includes excessive anger directed inward towards self.
  7. Pride, considered the most grave of the bunch, is placing one’s own will above all else and can corrupt love of self into contempt for others.

We can find sinfulness in our thoughts and actions when we allow any of our natural inclinations to overwhelm or to distract us.  To feed any obsession is to overlook the abundance of other gifts God put before us.  Failing to recognize, and failing to respond to, the abundance and grace in our lives is another, more subtle, way we veer off course into sin.

Those of us among the 5% of Earth’s population who reside in North America, who consume 25% of Earth’s energy and who eat enough extra calories every day to feed an additional 80 million people, can’t escape confronting our abundance.  While 925 million people in the world do not have enough to eat, making hunger and malnutrition the number one risk to health worldwide, the leading health risk to the poor in the United States is obesity.  Indeed, it is a land of abundance.

How we respond internally to the abundance around us informs what we do externally with our resources.  Both matter.  “From everyone to whom much has been given, much will be required; and from one to whom much has been entrusted, even more will be demanded.” (Luke 12:48)

Join the conversation.  Are you humbled by the abundance of opportunity and comfort, wondering what on earth could be expected of you that would in any way measure to the abundance set before you?  Or have you grown so accustomed to worldly things that you feel entitled to them and, in fact, want more?

Copyright 2011 Stephanie Walker All rights reserved.  Visit http://www.AcrossTraditions.com.

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Engine Conversion: No Hybrids in Heaven

How do we respond to the gift of salvation?  We respond by living in a completely new way.  I’m not talking about a conversion from one faith tradition to another but rather a transformation of inner motives and values that drive all of our actions.  

Although we wish it not to be so, the motive conversion is binary.  It is like a car engine.  It either runs on gasoline or on an electric cell.  We are driven either by the grace of God or by earthly stuff.   We are running on recovery fuel or relapse fuel.  We can’t be motivated by both at the same time.  Many of us want to be hybrids, running mainly on gasoline but occasionally going electric to get better mileage.  Or we want the outward manifestations of change without doing the inner work.  Slightly better is not what God pines for.  He’s not in it for the outward appearance, either.  He wants our whole hearts without restraint as a reciprocal response to what he gives us of himself.  If we seek true healing and life change, we need nothing less than a spiritual conversion. 

Scripture testifies to the disconcerting truth that we cannot orient ourselves around both grace and worldly things, and that if we orient ourselves to worldly things we can expect conflict to result.

1Those conflicts and disputes among you, where do they come from? Do they not come from your cravings that are at war within you? 2You want something and do not have it; so you commit murder. And you covet something and cannot obtain it; so you engage in disputes and conflicts. You do not have, because you do not ask. 3You ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly, in order to spend what you get on your pleasures. 4Adulterers! Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world becomes an enemy of God. (James 4:1-4) 

When pondering grace versus worldly things as fuel, those of us among the 5% of Earth’s population who reside in North America—consuming 25% of Earth’s energy and eating enough extra calories every day to feed an additional 80 million people—can’t escape confronting our abundance.  While 925 million people in the world do not have enough to eat, making hunger and malnutrition the number one risk to health worldwide, the leading health risk to the poor in the United States is obesity.  It is indeed the  land of plenty. 

How we respond internally to the abundance around us informs what we do externally with our resources.  Both matter.  “From everyone to whom much has been given, much will be required; and from one to whom much has been entrusted, even more will be demanded.” (Luke 12:48)  Are we humbled by the abundance of opportunity and reward, wondering what on earth could be expected of us that would in any way measure to the abundance before us?  Or have we grown so accustomed to worldly things that we feel entitled to them and, in fact, want more?  Our response reflects what fuels our souls.

Join the conversation.  What did you watch on TV last night, and what fuelled that choice? 

Copyright 2011 Stephanie Walker All rights reserved.  Visit www.AcrossTraditions.com.