this post continues a series looking at various issues raised by the book of Esther. I’d love you to add your own comments to the discussion
The book of Esther opens with an glimpse of the opulent luxury that king Xerxes enjoyed. He lays on a lavish feast that lasts a full six months, with the wine freely flowing the whole time (apparently his cure for a hangover was to just keep on drinking). His wealth was vast, and he fully intended to enjoy himself with it.
Recently, there has been much public indignation as the generous salaries of top public sector workers have been revealed. We look down on those who greedily grab far more than they need. But which of us would say no to a 20% increase on our own income? It always seems as if we need just a little bit more than we currently have before we can truly say that we have “enough”.
But at some point, we say to ourselves, we surely would be satisfied. Xerxes’ example suggests otherwise. In looking for a new wife, he was not just content to find the most beautiful woman alive. Rather, he wanted to stockpile all the beautiful virgins in the entire empire, and keep them exclusively for himself. (Jobes reports that those women in the harem who did not please the king would not be free to marry someone else, but forced to live out their days in seclusion).
It raises the issue of how much is too much? At what point should the Christian be content with what they have and stop seeking for more? OK, with wives its fairly obvious. Stop at one. But what about houses and cars and televisions and mobile phones. When do we stop wanting more and better and be content with what we have?
I’ve blogged about the upgrader and collector mentality before. Let me quote myself …
Jesus said that the person who has two tunics should share with him who has none (Luke 3:11). There were doubtless some very good and pragmatic reasons for having more than one tunic in those days – two is hardly extravagant. But where there are people with nothing, hoarding an abundance is selfish and greedy.
Paul says “But if we have food and clothing, with these we will be content” (1 Tim 6:8) and the author of Hebrews says “Keep your life free from love of money, and be content with what you have” (Heb 13:5). At the heart of the “upgrader” mentality is dissatisfaction with what we have and the foolish belief that the problem is merely that what we’ve got isn’t quite good enough. The fact is, that possessions can never satisfy at the deepest level, so the cycle of upgrading will never end (perhaps unless you are a millionaire and actually own the best of everything – at which point you’ll just get depressed).
Is it just me, or are we as Western Christians really bad at obeying these verses? We have good intentions, but maybe we are short on ideas of how we can resist the allure of more, and become content with merely enough. Here’s a few practical suggestions that might help. Feel free to disagree or add your own suggestions in the comments…
- Whenever you buy a newer or better version of something, how about giving the old one away, rather than storing it “just in case” it’s needed, or having it as a “spare” or even selling it on ebay.
- How about really being willing to share resources like books or movies (accepting the inconvenience and loss of doing so). What if the people in your church only owned one copy of Lord of the Rings between them, rather than one per person. How might the money saved be put to better use?
- How about not buying something just because it is on special offer. I suspect that doing so will save you money in the long run, even if it means you end up buying some items at full price later. Many “bargains” turn out to be things we don’t really need or use.
- How about actually letting things wear out before replacing them? Yes it might mean that you have to suffer a brief period where you have none, but usually this isn’t quite as much of a hardship as we imagine it will be. And maybe we need to rediscover the lost art of fixing broken stuff, and “making do” with imperfect things.
- How about selling something on ebay and giving the proceeds away?