The Consumption MonsterEssays, Meditations — By Megan Mulder on July 8, 2012 at 6:00 am
Two weeks ago, I went on a fast for medical reasons. I had felt very sick for many weeks – constantly bloated, and whenever I felt hungry, I would eat one or two bites and then feel immediately full. I figured I’d fast until I felt better – just to clear my system of food.
Over the four days I fasted, I realized just how little a person needs to survive. When I came back onto food, I ate a third or a quarter of what I had eaten before, and I was full. No more giant sandwiches or 32 ounce soft drinks. And it made me start thinking about consumption.
Everywhere I go, I’m smacked over the head with advertisements. I’m told I need the new iPhone, that all my clothes are out of style and that I need this season’s, that if I’m going to meet with friends I have to have lunch with them, or at least coffee. I need a more fuel efficient car. My laptop is already a year old! The horror! On and on and on. And the truth is, I’ve begun to believe it.
I’ve begun to adhere to a new gospel – no longer is Jesus enough. To be complete, I need to consume more. And these lies have begun to manifest themselves in a new way: instead of wanting Jesus, I’ve begun to want the things he gives me.
I want wonder, and instead of going to Jesus, I go buy the latest technological gadget.
I want redemption, and instead of going to Jesus, I buy my kids everything that I wanted as a child but my parents couldn’t afford.
The problem is, of course, that the newest Apple product isn’t going to give me the wonder my heart craves, because a few circuits and a shiny screen is nothing compared to the Creator of the universe.
The problem is that I can’t buy myself redemption.
I’ve noticed something about this consumption monster. As soon as I’m done drinking a coffee, I want another one. And it may take a couple of weeks, but the new car soon starts to feel old. The computer crashes. The food spoils.
The funny – or sad – thing is, even though I know this, I still want more. It’s like there’s a hungry tapeworm inside me that just eats and eats and is never satisfied.
I wonder why, though I know Jesus and he knows me, that I don’t go to him when I want wonder? Why I think that I’ll feel better if I indulge in that bar of chocolate instead of going to him for comfort?
I think the problem might be that, the more real Jesus is to me – that is, the more I get to know him – the more I see the inadequacy of our present relationship. You see, I’m stuck down here on the earth, in the middle of a battle field, and sometimes bad things happen – people die, wars start – and in the moments when I most need somebody to come up and hug me, Jesus doesn’t. He can’t, you see, because he isn’t physically here.
I think that’s why I go to technology and food and entertainment to console me instead of Jesus.
I understand the Israelites in the desert, you know. Moses is up on a mountain and he’s probably having a grand time – at least, they think so, given the thunder and lightning and smoke – but it’s been weeks and there is no God at the base of the mountain, and though God has done wonderful and impossible things for them since they have left Egypt, they can’t see him. They can’t touch him. And though he is there, it doesn’t feel like he is there.
Given the circumstances, I think I probably would have begun dancing around the golden calf, too.
Actually, I’m dancing around the golden calf right now. My cow is just a little shinier, and able to connect to the internet and Facebook in addition to making calls and texts.
Is there a solution?
Is there a solution to the human condition?
I love that Jesus’ solution is to consume more.
Consume me, he says. Come to the Communion table. Eat food. Drink wine. Come to terms with your brokenness as you break bread, and let me handle it.
I know I get off track. John Calvin said, “The human heart is an idol factory.” This was true for Israelites and it’s true for all of us now.
But I take heart, because I see how God guided the Israelites through the labyrinth of their own making. The Israelites had to consume and consume and they couldn’t pay attention to a God who wasn’t hammered out of metal or wood. And God didn’t leave them all to rot. Instead, he sent prophet after prophet, each one with a message of hope, telling Israel to “Awake, awake, put on your strength.” (Is 52:1)
That’s an image I love – awaking from slumber and putting on strength. All this obsession with consumption and more more more – this is my sleep. And each day Jesus wakes me up and gives me his strength. In the words of the Message, my strength comes in the form of two sentences: “Don’t panic. I’m right here” (Is 41:13)