Written by Author & Blogger Tim Challies
“Even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these,” Jesus said as He recalled the beauty of a common lily (Luke 12:27). And I suspect that even Solomon in all his splendor could not have imagined the sheer affluence that you and I enjoy today. The lily is here today and gone tomorrow, so fleeting and commonplace that we overlook its intricate beauty and fail to acknowledge the glory of the God who made and sustains it. Is it possible that we have grown so accustomed to our affluence that we have lost the wonder of it, too? Is it possible that our affluence harms us even as it blesses us?
Those of us who live in the developed world today enjoy a measure of wealth that is almost beyond understanding. This is the kind of wealth that billions of the world’s population can only dream of. This is wealth that previous generations could not have imagined. And it is not merely money that we enjoy in such abundance, but also comfort, influence, and so much else. We are incredibly, unbelievably, divinely blessed. And yet, many of us can identify that this wealth brings with it a kind of illness, a spiritual malaise that some have labeled “affluenza.” Are we sick with affluenza? And if so, is there a way that we can use and enjoy our affluence without succumbing to this ugly disease?
The Symptoms of Affluenza
In the waning days of the First World War, the war to end all wars, an unexpected illness began to break out in small pockets around the world. What at first showed only the symptoms of a cold soon progressed into a particularly virulent form of the influenza virus. Incredibly contagious and dangerous, this virus quickly overwhelmed a sick patient’s immune system. Often, within hours of exposure to the disease, a patient would show the first symptoms, and within a day would be desperately ill, unable to breathe, drowning in ravaged lungs. Passed from soldier to soldier as they were jammed together in the front-line trenches and transported by marching armies, the Spanish flu spread to almost every nation in the world and claimed the lives of somewhere between twenty million and forty million people. It is known today as the deadliest epidemic in human history, and in its time it ravaged the world.
Affluenza is a spiritual disease that is ravaging the modern world. It is similar to every other disease in that we can accurately diagnose it by its telltale symptoms.
Ironically, the most common symptom of affluenza is discontentment. Many of us have discovered that as our wealth and our possessions multiply, so too does our discontentment. There is an inverse relationship between how much we have and how much we are convinced we need to be content. Just think about Adam and Eve. They had the whole world before them. The whole world, that is, but for one little tree that God had decreed would be off limits. And somehow they determined that they could not possibly be content unless they had the fruit from that tree. And like Adam and Eve, we can have great abundance and still feel empty. We can have great abundance while still feeling the gnawing discontent that we do not have more. Just one more dollar, just one more gadget, just one more vacation, just one more upgrade—joy is always that close, but that far away. If you suffer from affluenza, you will know it when you look at all you have and still believe that just a little bit more will really bring the joy you crave.
Another common symptom of affluenza is self-dependence. Our abilities multiply alongside our wealth, and when we are most able, we tend to be least dependent. Why would I pray to God for my daily bread when I have millions in my savings account? Why would I pray for God to give me wisdom when I can already see the fruit of my hard work and good decisions? The man with little prays much; the man with much prays little. If you spot self-dependence in your life—self-dependence manifested especially in prayerlessness—you may well be suffering from affuenza.
Allow me to point you to one more symptom of affluenza: ingratitude. The Bible makes it clear that all the good we enjoy is a gift from God (James 1:17). The Bible makes it equally clear that we are to return thanks to God, gratefully and specifically, for each one of those good gifts. But ingratitude is a grave challenge to the person suffering from affluenza. Why should I give thanks to God when I am the one who has worked so hard for what I have? Why should I give thanks to God if what I have is only the smallest portion of what I actually want or deserve? Your lack of gratitude may prove that you have a bad case of affluenza. Read more…