Living in a consumerist culture means being marketed to, paraded with brands, encouraged to buy and buy again, and educated to think that people are defined by the products they purchase. Some would say this is the ultimate economic model. And, yes, one indication of a healthy economy is the exchange of goods and services. But one common model is built on the premise of selling satisfaction and then breeding dissatisfaction – the idea that you want a particular product, and eventually you'll need more. Several questions underlie this marketing model that can influence the consumer. Questions like: How does this product define me? What will it give me? What do I have to do to get it? How long will it last? Can I have it now?
A recent Christianity Today article, "Jesus is not a brand" by Tyler Wigg-Stevenson (January), pointed out that with so many people accustomed to such a consumer mentality, it can be difficult to separate this from our religious lives. He puts forward this sobering observation: "In a marketing culture, the Truth becomes a product. People will encounter it with the same consumerist worldview with which they encounter every other product in the American marketplace."
A closer look at how a consumerist approach applies to our thinking – and impacts our spiritual lives – can be eye-opening, especially when the "product" is our understanding of God or Jesus' teachings.
To truly know the Christ is to understand and selflessly practice the truths Jesus taught. His message, he promised, would satisfy forever. To the woman from Samaria, whom he met at a well, he said: "Everyone who drinks this water will get thirsty again. But no one who drinks the water I give will ever be thirsty again. The water I give is like a flowing fountain that gives eternal life" (John 4:13, 14, Contemporary English Version). Jesus' message of truth changes the consumer questions to emphatic statements of truth: I am defined by God. I am satisfied and need nothing to complete my life. I have all that I need right now, and it is forever new and fresh. I am patient and whole. These statements point to one's spiritual identity and defy the materialistic model.
Perhaps the ultimate "salesman" of Jesus' teachings – someone whose very existence focused on spreading a message – was St. Paul. He put his life in peril, traveled over land and sea, and spoke to people who'd already made up their minds on the subject of their faith, and on their lifestyle choices. Yet, he delivered the same message of health, wholeness, and satisfaction as Jesus did. Paul's message must have been far from a sales pitch. He couldn't just talk about healing. He had to practice it!
At one point – after Paul's message caused an uproar in Ephesus and he traveled to Troas (cities in the Anatolian region of Turkey) – he gave a speech, which the Bible records "continued ... until midnight." Then, a young man named Eutychus fell asleep in a window as he listened to Paul's long talk. Soon, Eutychus plummeted to the ground and was "taken up dead" (Acts 20:7–12). While the Bible doesn't record Paul's words, it's quite possible he was recounting Jesus' healings, and he must have been explaining the Master's mission and teachings. Now, Paul had to prove it – the Truth that heals – himself. And he did. Eutychus was healed.
Mary Baker Eddy wrote: "The best sermon ever preached is Truth practised and demonstrated by the destruction of sin, sickness, and death. Knowing this and knowing too that one affection would be supreme in us and take the lead in our lives, Jesus said, 'No man can serve two masters' " ("Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures," p. 201). Putting Spirit at the core of life brings about the healing we yearn for. Taking care not to adopt a state of thought that becomes easily dissatisfied denies the materialistic marketing mentality any power. True satisfaction lies in the understanding that spiritual ideas have such a profound effect on our lives that they lift the lives of others, too, and provide uncountable blessings.
Adapted from the Christian Science Sentinel.