By Paul Koch –
Everything is for sale!
In a culture that accepts the killing of the unborn as rational planning for the future, we are now supposed to be shocked when we find that the many affiliates of Planned Parenthood are making a profit off the selling of harvested body parts. In fact, while it may be disgusting and depressing (not to mention illegal), it is not illogical. After all, the pro-choice crowd has been accusing them for years of tossing these little ones in the dumpster. Now at least they can counter with profit motive, a free-market economy, and the illusion of helping others through scientific research.
Today we are given a grim reminder that Shakespeare was wrong. All the world is not a stage but a marketplace.
Everywhere we turn, every moment of our lives, our attention is being manipulated and co-opted by the sellers of hopes and dreams. Who knew that the makers of designer jeans and peddlers of low interest financing options had been listening so closely to the wisdom of John Lock? If humanity’s understanding of its self is a collection of experiential data inscribed upon a clean slate, then by manipulating the data we can manipulate what sort of humans we want – i.e. consumers.
So we are left to wonder about things like who owns our steps, or why everything has become a billboard: from actual billboards, to the sides of cars wrapped in a vinyl sticker, to the little divider on a grocery store checkout belt. The world is a marketplace, and we are all little buyers and sellers in it. Sometimes it may be ugly and perverse and sometimes it may bring great joy and comfort, but none of us are immune from it. We may try to rebel, to escape it all, but short of going completely off the grid I don’t see how it is possible.
I wonder, though, that there might yet be one thing that has escaped the world’s marketplace. One thing, in fact, that is immune to it. To be sure it is often buried beneath all the ads and news conferences and political sloganeering, but we can still find it. Or rather, we can still find Him! The only one who is removed from the movement of the marketplace is our Lord himself. Not that we don’t try to monetize Him, but I think we find that in the end God cannot be bought or sold.
The other morning while driving to meet some friends and colleagues, I was listening to Colin Cowherd on ESPN radio when he made an unintentional and fantastic point. He was talking about those players in the majors that drive momentum. They aren’t always the best all-around players, but they sell a greater narrative than a simple ability which spurs on others to excel. To make his point he used Joel Osteen. Now I don’t know if Colin is a Christian or not, but he apparently enjoys watching Osteen on TV and his comments proved to be insightful. He said that what makes Osteen successful is that he isn’t trying to sell God. He isn’t selling Jesus to the masses. Rather he is selling hopes and dreams. He is selling the promise of a greater life now and this is what makes him so successful. In fact, Colin ended up saying that if Osteen was trying to sell God he wouldn’t watch.
Here’s the thing, I imagine that Christians of all stripes have tried their best to “sell” God. I think Joel Osteen tries to sell God. They may not call it that, but our country has many TV-evangelists and media groups that have built great fortunes on the idea that God is a commodity that can be consumed by the masses. The leaders of the churches today look out and see a congregation full of consumers. In exchange for their attendance, their tithes, their willingness to volunteer, and participation in the work of the church they are provided with a little bit of God to carry them through.
But God does not play by our rules. He is a poor performer on TV and not so easily caged by the professionals and experts. So the churches are left to sell something else in place of God. The truth is they may not even know they are doing it. But they need to provide something. They need to sell something, so they fill their storehouses with things they can control. Osteen may use stories of future hopes and dreams, another church may offer a sense of timeless tradition and belonging, and still others may provide strong emotional movements. The great danger is that we think we are finding God in these places, when in truth we are being sold a forgery.
The living God cannot be bought or sold. He is not found in the devises or schemes of men but in the Word proclaimed and in the Sacraments handed over. He comes not to make us feel better, not to fulfill a felt need in our lives, but to kill and give new life. Our God stands in judgment over the peddlers of false hope and the consumers of innocent life. He promises to lift up the lowly and tear down the mighty.
He alone is not for sale! He alone is our hope.