Like many of you, I was absolutely appalled at the madness surrounding Black Friday this year. Shoppers fighting, a woman pepper spraying other shoppers to get what she wanted, even shootings. All this in preparation for the arrival of the Prince of Peace!
And it happens every year. But even as we cringed watching the mayhem, we also found ourselves listening to news reports hoping that strong sales would boost our struggling economy.
Well, something I heard from my colleague John Stonestreet in his marvelous daily radio commentary, “The Point,” really made sense. According to John, “Measuring our economy based on what we buy is flawed, and here’s why: it doesn’t get to the core of what really makes us human.”
A proper economy, that leads to true human flourishing, must be based on a proper understanding of human beings, human happiness, and human behavior.
Misunderstanding what makes us human was the fatal flaw of communism. And it was the reason that it not only failed to bring its promised utopian society, but was so destructive to human life in the twentieth century and continues to be today.
Karl Marx saw human beings as nothing more than consumers of resources. And he saw human history as nothing more than the struggle over those resources between the haves and the have-nots.
But that’s not true, and while Americans don’t think of themselves as communists, our free market system has been corrupted by the same flawed fundamental premise.
What the annual Black Friday mayhem reveals is that we, too, think of ourselves primarily as consumers. In fact, our capitalism has somewhat degenerated into consumerism. We live to shop, and yet in a month, as John Stonestreet wrote in the Point, “the credit card bills will come, the boredom will set in, and the suicide rates will spike, just like this time last year.” Why? Because we think more stuff is what it’s all about, but we know it’s not.
A Biblical worldview begins with a different and better assumption about human beings. That we were designed in God’s image, the Imago Dei, and tasked to care for, steward, and cultivate the created order.
We certainly consume to survive. But, bearing His image, we were created to produce, to innovate and invest, to pour into others, to seek to improve things. That’s the free market at its best, but it requires that we form the character to desire creating above consuming, that we delay gratification and think of the welfare of future generations. And that character is in short supply these days.
An entitlement mentality has infected how we see our lives. We’ve seen the result: crushing personal and national debt, and a growing state to accommodate all of our demands.
It just doesn’t work folks. And it won’t make us happy. Because we were made in the Imago Dei, the Image of God, instead of asking, “What can we buy?” we need to ask, “What can we create?”