Contentment and excess in America

Published 10:03 pm Friday, October 18, 2013

By Rev. Dr. Chris Surber

We don’t live in a land of haves and have-nots. We live in a land of excess and greed.

Those who have been blessed the most usually hoard it. They have an excessive amount of stuff and material wealth, and they have an equally excessive opinion of how much they deserve to keep it stored up, like a squirrel hoarding nuts for a long winter that may never come. It’s theirs. Why should they share it?

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Those who have relatively little are easily pulled toward a greedy way of thinking. It’s not fair. The people who have a lot don’t share, and I want some of it.

Our cultural and political discussions about how wealth should or should not be redistributed are more reminiscent of two children fighting over a toy on the playground than an adult discussion of how best to manage a society.

Whether rich or poor, nearly all present-day Americans have enjoyed the relative ease of life that comes from living in the wealthiest nation on earth. Yet, we are infected with a sort of poverty mentality. The richest among us usually hoard. Those with less are usually greedy for more.

Perhaps it’s the lingering cultural effects of the Great Depression. Perhaps it’s a consequence of the underlying fear of what may come next in these relatively bleak financial times in America.

I really don’t think it’s either of these things. We don’t need more money. The very poorest in America are the middle — or upper — class of the world. Two thirds of the world lives on less than a dollar a day and very likely does not even have clean water to drink. Compared to most of the world, nearly every American may as well be Bill Gates.

Our nation’s current budget crisis reflects what is wrong with America’s very heart. Everybody wants something for nothing, and nobody is generous. The poorer among us are greedy for more, and the wealthier among us are greedy to keep what they’ve got.

That’s the way a sinful heart works. When it has a lot, it wants to keep it at all costs. When it has little, it is envious for more. A greedy mentality comes easy to those who live in a land of striving and excess. And governmental “Robin Hood” programs to redistribute the wealth won’t fix the problem.

It’s not a budget problem. It’s a heart problem.

The simple truth is the natural inclination of every person is toward keeping what he’s got and getting more of what he hasn’t got. It’s like my early mentor used to say about just about every problem we encountered in the ministry, “It’s just like the world isn’t it?”

What does the Bible say about this? Here’s one simple instruction from God to His people. “Let us not become conceited, or provoke one another, or be jealous of one another.” (Galatians 5:26 NLT)

We don’t need more stuff. We need more contentment with the stuff we already have.

Chris Surber is pastor of Cypress Chapel Christian Church in Suffolk. Visit his website at