THE fellow who gained the world and lost his soul. Each of us can probably name one or more miserable or foolish persons we know who could fit into this category. The original warning, of course, comes from our Lord Jesus: “What good is it for a man to gain the whole world, yet forfeit his soul?” (Mk. 8:36).
This divine warning comes afresh as our world becomes more and more of a global marketplace, selling a vast array of lifestyles and products. People are being reduced to an addictive consumerism that threatens to rob them of their lives – the kind of abundant life that Jesus talked about (Jn. 10:10).
In our earlier and simpler days, choices were more limited. If you wanted to buy a television in the 1960s, when it first appeared in Singapore, the process of choosing what you wanted to buy was quite straightforward. You would have gone to the neighbourhood shop selling electrical goods and decided which of the three or so models you wanted to buy. The process of choosing took a relatively short time.
Today, a similar outing to buy a television may take much longer when it came to choices. There are just too many choices around. You would probably ask around, talk to your friends, do your own research, and check information on the Internet. A smart and savvy consumer may take a week or longer to make his decision. Even more time would be spent when buying a car or computer, or planning a holiday.
The danger here is that we may spend much of our lives trying to make choices that may have little or no significance when assessed in the light of eternity. They make no positive contribution to the Kingdom of God or the wellbeing of our souls. For, after all, does it really matter at the end of time whether you drove a Mazda or a Toyota, or used a particular credit card?
Then, why do we spend so much time in making such consumer choices? Do you remember the proverbial student who sits for an exam comprising 10 questions? Instead of answering all the questions, he spends all his time answering the least important question – the one with the least marks, and when the time is up he realises his folly.
He is no fool who spends most of his time dealing with the most important questions and choices in his life. The marketplace can distract us into wasting precious time and opportunity on consumer choices that are ultimately of no consequence.
The Bible has a way of reducing all the human-created complexities arising from consumer choices or the sinful meanderings of human thinking and rationalisation. For example, the Psalms, the worship book of ancient Israel, begins with the most important choice in life – whether one chooses to walk in the way of the righteous or the way of the wicked. JESUS Himself showed that when we cut through all our lengthy discussions and deliberations, that at the heart of things, our choice is simple – if we are honest with ourselves. We either walk on the less-trodden narrow way or follow the herd in the crowded broad way (Mt. 7:13-14). Or put in a different way, you either serve God or money (Mt. 6:24).
Such relentless simplification is necessary in a world of increasing choices. Otherwise we will deceive ourselves into thinking that we are doing all right and that our souls are well. A consumer lives in an illusory world of choices when he spends inordinate time in the marketplace; no real choice is made, except that the more he is wasting time on inconsequential choices, the more he is losing his soul.
The disciple, on the other hand, is always facing an “either-or” choice.
Either he loves God or he doesn’t. Either he loves his neighbour or he doesn’t. He is like the pilgrim who keeps his eye on the original journey refusing to be distracted by the many carnivals and sideshows along the way.
A consumerist world of increasing choices leads inevitably to decreasing levels of commitment. This is already evident in many areas of life, from the way one sticks lightly to a brand, to the effects in family and religious life. Increasingly one does not make a long-term or lifetime commitment to anything, whether it is a job, spouse, citizenship, or church.
When it comes to the ultimate reality of our life – God – there is really no choice, or rather no real alternative. The first commandment tells us that when it comes to God, there is no market, and we are not consumers. If there appears to be a market, then, what is on offer, other than God, are counterfeits. There is only one good choice, only one real choice; and that is to acknowledge that God is the most important reality in our lives, much more important than our selves, and that there is no real life outside His grace and will.
The marketplace sells the good life, and many are busy surveying the goods and spending much time buying what is on offer. The problem is that the pursuit of the good life does not bring us ultimate blessings. Often, it is reduced to the consumerist pursuits of our baser instincts, the pursuit of entertainment by bored people, and the seeking of transient happiness by those who have not found joy. The good life, often, is an obstacle to the best life. To find the best life, we would have to give up the trivial pursuit of the good life in the modern marketplace. We remember the apostle Paul’s prayer: “And this is my prayer: that your love may abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight, so that you may be able to discern what is best and may be pure and blameless until the day of Christ, filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ – to the glory and praise of God.” (Phil 1:9-11).
In this great prayer, we are reminded of the best life and the most important realities in life. The choices we should be spending time making should focus on these matters. Let us live wisely making the best use of what is left of our lifetimes on that which matters ultimately. For what is the point of knowing the price of everything when we don’t realise the value of the soul?