By Rod Benson
From time to time, we’re urged to define limits to our consumption, to explore the possibilities of wealth redistribution and communal ownership, and to practice sacrificial giving to promote justice and mercy and ministry. John Stott called it “the Christian counter-culture.” Luke called it the “common life.” Jesus called it “neighbour-love” and “cross-bearing.”
There is, however, virtue to be gained in consumption. God fills the world with good things, and invites us to consume them with pleasure. God gives us time, and invites us to spend it in his service. God gives us his love, and his Son, and invites us to the table. God gives us his Spirit, and invites us to use the Spirit’s gifts.
One of the Gospel’s ironies is that God calls us to respond to the supreme act of self-sacrifice through acquisition and consumption. We receive the gift of life; we take the bread and wine; we walk in the Spirit.
God satisfies our deep needs, and prepares us for life in his presence. He wants us to live generously and compassionately, to follow Jesus. Yet we can be so focused on doing God’s work that we overlook what must come first: receiving God’s love, and being God’s person. If that’s where you’re at, then George Herbert’s classic poem is for you:
Love bade me welcome, yet my soul drew back,
Guilty of dust and sin.
But quick-ey’d Love, observing me grow slack
From my first entrance in,
Drew nearer to me, sweetly questioning
If I lack’d anything.
“A guest,” I answer’d, “worthy to be here”;
Love said, “You shall be he.”
“I, the unkind, the ungrateful? ah my dear,
I cannot look on thee.”
Love took my hand and smiling did reply,
“Who made the eyes but I?”
“Truth, Lord, but I have marr’d them;
let my shameGo where it doth deserve.”
“And know you not,” says Love, “who bore the blame?”
“My dear, then I will serve.”
“You must sit down,” says Love, “and taste my meat.”
So I did sit and eat.
Rev Rod Benson is an ethicist and public theologian with the Tinsley Institute, an activity of Morling College, Sydney.