God is not a commodity.
It may sound strange to you, but I suspect more of us treat God like a commodity to be bought, sold and traded than we’d care to admit.
I know I do.
This week I was walking along the coastline of Milford Beach here in Auckland when I noticed the way the morning sun struck the ocean like a thousand glistening diamonds. I must have seen this a hundred times over the ten years I’ve been walking that coastal path but that didn’t stop me from being brought to a halt and having a moment.
But then, out of some kind of reflex, milliseconds into the experience I began to try and eek every little bit of pleasure and peace out of it that I could. It was as if I’d suddenly realised I was having a moment and felt the desperate need to make more of it. To get something tangible from it. To consume it.
Consuming was my disposition. It didn’t even seem to cross my subconscious mind that I could just enjoy the moment as it was without anything more happening. Once I’d realised I was experiencing the beauty of the view I leapt into commodifying it into an opportunity for more joy, more awareness, more peace.
As a result, for the rest of the day I felt the Spirit speaking to me about how easy it is to become a spiritual consumer and how it can effect my relationship with God, with creation, and with the people around me.
We Live In A Consumer Minded Age
It’s an unfortunate reality. You and I are so used to be treated as commodities that we hardly even notice it any more. Heck, we even do it to each other. Don’t be shy with yourself, how often have you used your good looking or slightly more well known friend to garner a few likes on your social media platforms? Or how often have relationships turned into networking opportunities?
The truth is, we’re so used to being treated as farms for companies and influencers’ likes and follows online that we treat things like holiday trips overseas as photo opportunities to engender online popularity.
Every thing is commodified in our day - sex sells almost everything, beautiful views are used to gain online appeal or to build tourist outposts that almost decimate the beauty their commercialising. Coke sells summer fun, cars sell family happiness, our homes advertise our cultural pulse to all visitors and even churches advertise their services now through social media platforms.
Of course, consumerism in itself isn’t necessarily bad, unless we’re so embroiled in it as a worldview that we become blind to how we’re beginning to consume God in the process too.
But what’s the alternative?
The Consumable And Non-Consumable Dimensions of God, Creation & People
The easiest place to objectively identify how we’re stuck in consumer-mindedness is creation. There is so much in the environment that is good and right to consume like fruit and vegetables, particular metals and minerals that are good for economy and health, and water and other natural resources that when used with respect create a better world for humanity.
But there are also elements of creation that are simply not consumable in the same way. Think of a beautiful view, a vista or a particular sunrise or sunset. These are transforming and sometimes fleeting art pieces that are simply there to be enjoyed in the moment. Sure, they may bring us an epiphany or some peace or wonder, but fundamentally they’re there for us to watch and to experience. Not package, contain or profit from.
They’re there to be experienced and shared openly with one another and the world.
Well, the same is true for God.
There is plenty about God that is consumable like his fruits, gifts, the blessings he brings us and the benefits to our lives when we live according the pattern of his love. In one sense consuming these parts of our life with God is precisely the point.
But critically there is also a lot about God that we can’t consume like his mystery and wonder, his personal presence and his very being.
We know we’re walking with God in consumer-mindedness when we’re always trying to glean something in return for his being with us like peace, joy or a particular answer. When these longings come out of us like a reflex it detracts from the simple act of knowing God and enjoying him for who he is.
It builds a wall between us.
Consuming God becomes a barrier between us and our real ability to know and be known by him. When we approach God with consumer-mindedness his presence becomes an opportunity to fix our latest problem, fill our greatest need or grow in our own sense of God-filledness rather than a moment to simply be caught up in his wonder without consequence or benefit.
What God gives us becomes greater than the wonder of his Person.
And finally, the same is true for people.
There is plenty we can consume about one another’s lives - friendship, hospitality, work, resource and emotional support - but without the simplicity of knowing each other beyond what we can get, all of those benefits become little more than cheap transactions.
To love each other without consuming one another is to sit and listen, to be with someone because they’re made in the image of God, because who they are shows you something of Him you don’t have yet and whether you discover that or not they’re worthy of your attention.
To live a life of non-consumption with God, creation and people - the life I believe Jesus’ showed us by his being with us when we had so little to offer - is to practice the art of beholding.
The answer to a non-consuming life is the practice of beholding. Beholding is a conscious decision to enjoy the person of God and others by simply being with them despite or without benefit. It means to not seek to glean anything from others but hopes to simply be in the midst of them for their own inherent worth.
Following the illustration of creation a view becomes just a view and whether it gives you peace or joy or a great instagram photo or not is no longer the point. Simply beholding and knowing it is enough. It stands without you and your need to be fulfilled by it.
When you give it that kind of worth you allow it to show you it’s glory.
In the same way, sitting with God becomes less about “becoming more spiritual” or finding answers or gifts and more about simply seeing him, knowing him and loving him for who he is. It gives him his right honour, it gives him the worth he deserves.
Sharing your life with another human being becomes more of an adventure of discovery too. They become precious in and of themselves without our needing to convince them of something, change them or garner something self-satisfying from them. They no longer prop up our needs and lacks but become an object of true love and an opportunity to behold something other.
Beholding looks a lot like sitting with, listening to, adoring regardless of faults and giving equal value to all. It’s revolutionary in a Christian sense because we believe that every soul has equal worth and displays something unique of God so that our beholding stretches across cultural, ethnic, political, economic or religious status.
Christian beholding is fundamentally a beholding of God’s image in all people and his hand in all things.
It’s not necessarily wrong to consume all these things if they’re done in a healthy way. But if consuming is all we do then we’re running the danger of missing out on the best part of being.
It’s more natural than I’d like to admit to consume places, people and God. But an invitation to beholding is an invitation to a far more beautiful life. A life not born from transactional necessity but of enjoyment. It’s a settled and loving life and a life lived knowing and being fully known by an expansive God and the people he has so affectionately fashioned.