The Voice: Winter 2002

The Voice

If you can buy it, may you have it?

Plumblines are commentaries written by people from the Dordt community to stimulate thinking about issues facing Christians living in 2002.

I am not a fan of Rush Limbaugh but when I am driving, I sometimes listen to find out what he and his crowd are saying. I do the same for those on the other end of the political spectrum.The topic the day I was listening concerned the energy shortage in California. When a caller suggested that we should work toward conservation, the host berated him for being short-sighted. Instead, he said, the only concern was increasing supply, and since California had not built new power plants in the last ten years, it deserved the shortage.

The main point of this talk show host was that we should not deprive anyone of buying anything they can afford. People have a right to spend their hard-earned money in whatever way they choose_it is America after all. That is what he said.

I am getting tired of hearing that the money people receive is always “hard-earned.” That is loaded language.         

Individualism is regarded as a prime value and that means that the individual reigns supreme. Whatever anyone wants to do_within the law, of course_is their own business and no one else has any right to say anything about their choices. Individualism runs deep in American values. But clearly it is a value that arises from a democratic worldview, not a Christian one. It is not Christian to say that what I choose to do is of no concern to anyone else. Just because I can buy it does not mean that it is right for me to buy it. Just because I can buy a gas-guzzling SUV does not mean that it is morally right for me to do so, even if I do not complain about high gasoline prices. The same is true for housing: just because I can afford a big house does not mean that it is morally right for me to buy one.

What was missing in the talk show was any concern for Christian values. I have time to only deal with three briefly: stewardship, community, and concern for the poor.

Individualism ignores what God says about stewardship of resources. If I use lots of gas in my SUV, I am being wasteful (assuming I do not need that type of vehicle). It also means there will be less gasoline available at reasonable prices for those who need it. It is our moral duty to think about others when we make purchases.

To build a large house with rooms that are barely used is a waste of materials. It keeps building costs high and resources limited so that others who need reasonable housing cannot afford it. When I build a new house, I need to consider the impact it has on others in the community. Part of loving our neighbor means that we consider what our purchases do to others. To say that my building a big new house makes jobs for others is hardly adequate because plenty of other work needs to be done, such as housing for the poor.

When I mention concern for the poor, I mean two things. First, if we freely buy whatever we can afford, we are likely to spend so much on ourselves that there is nothing left to give to those in need. Second, and this is just as important, if we freely buy whatever we want, the cost of those resources_such as energy and materials_will go so high that the poor who need those resources will not be able to afford them. That is not right.

I have not said anything so far about resources running out. But read again the Old Testament. God gave careful instructions for use of the land. God insisted on obedience. Notice that He said when the people were obedient, the land would yield its harvest. But if they disobeyed God, there would be no rain and the land would be barren. That principle remains in effect today. God has not changed; he wants us to be good stewards of all the gifts He has given. Loving our neighbor shows obedience as well as our concern for community, and those who have the ability to work and earn money have a duty to give to the poor. The poor are there so that we can demonstrate the love of God.

Rush Limbaugh is sinfully wrong. Just because you can afford it does not mean it is morally right to do so. And, yes, what you purchase is the business of all of us.