Idolatry: Security

N.Americans are especially bad at this one. Bad stuff is always happening “out there” somewhere to “other people,” and any notion of it coming anywhere close to me and where I live is to be met with fear and avoidance at all costs.

Our obsession with security penetrates to many levels. RRSPs, while not necessarily evil, are a symptom of this disease. We hope to purchase our security by storing up treasures during our more certain years. I even saw a bank ad that read “earn peace of mind” when advertising RRSPs, and this is entirely what they’re selling.

Oh, and don’t get me started on suburbs, gated communities, and white flight. Click the link; be disgusted.

And then we can hardly avoid 9-11’s ugly visage. A nation that hadn’t experienced attack on its own soil in generations was suddenly shocked to learn that people hated them enough to do something truly horrific. And suddenly Bush’s entire administration had the perfect ploy to ensure their power to get things done and be reelected: tell the people that whatever you’re doing—at home and abroad—is about improving security. And the gibbering masses who already live their lives primarily in illusion smile and nod as their country commits war crimes against Iraq, revokes citizen freedoms in the so-called Patriot Act, and all the while conflate this mess with vague notions of God being “on our side.”

Yet this is the jealous God who says “no other God before me.” He does not want us to worship our own sense of security. He offers us Himself, and in Him we find a security unlike anything we can conceive of. God’s security must often be counter-intuitive if Jesus the God-man died as a wrongfully convicted criminal. Oh, and a side note: Jesus was killed by political leaders who thought that they were acting in the best interests of the security of the Judean people. He was a trouble-maker, and Rome might crush them at any minute…

Jesus says to his disciples, “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.” (John 14:27) The peace that Jesus gives us is not a lack of things to give us anxiety about our security. Rather, “he himself is our peace.” (Eph 2:14) We clamor after security. Jesus offers us Himself.

Lord, have mercy upon us, for we are are slow to listen and slow to learn.

17 responses to “Idolatry: Security”

  1. Brother,

    This is one I have difficulty with.

    Agreed, and absolutely so, that, above all else, our trust must be in God. And agreed, we, especially in the West, don’t do this very well.

    However, the all-too-common anti-RRSP’s and other anti-planning-for-our-future speak, I think, also misses the point. While RRSP’s, contrary to the ad you saw, obviously cannot substitute the peace of God in Christ, is it not true that making plans for your future is an aid to peace of mind? I mean, while James says “you don’t know what a day may bring”, and truly we don’t, I think a lot of Christians, by being anti-capitalism, anti-establishment, and so forth, give themselves stress by, in the name of the said ‘antis’, simply being negligent when it comes to finances, ie, not making any plans, living by the seat of their pants, etc.

    Don’t get me wrong. I’m not espousing that we make rigid plans wholly dedicated to amassing a fortune. Rather, I think that having plans in place is simply a matter of dealing with the necessary conditions in order to live a relatively worry-free life. Translation: your shit’s in order. And let’s face it – and in the words of the Sarnia Vineyard pastor – money is everything. There’s nothing we think of more and nothing that has more power over us; something to that effect anyway.

    Putting your faith in RRSP’s and things of the like is not the answer. Neither, in my opinion, is not taking future-planning seriously.


    I feel I may have set you up strawman styles. You did not outright say that RRSP’s and the like are necessarily evil, though I largely wrote as though you did. Apologies.

  2. Straw man indeed ;)

    To flip it to the other straw-man extreme, this is precisely the line of reasoning that’s used to justify much (if not every) idolatry; that is, I’m doing this because it’s a necessary part of living within my culture.

    Alright straw men aside and into the complexities of real life. RRSPs can be OK, but they also might not be. Myself, I think that they’re probably a necessary evil, given that we live in a society in which we don’t take care of one another. Still, these are the kinds of things that we need to ask questions about.

  3. i think it’s all about where you put your faith. we are so indoctrinated in the ideologies and systems of our age it becomes difficult to imagine anything else. so i am not sure what the kingdom-alternative to RRSP’s would be. . . but i think it might have something to do with community.

    i sometimes have glimpses of perspective.

    money is a thing that circulates and flows around and people are always trying to get their hands on more of it. then the kingdom breaks through — we hear stories like how the winnipeg vineyard building was simply given to a church that had no way of affording their own. and we have all heard countless personal stories too.

    it’s kind of like, well, God has given me my ability to work (imagine if i broke my arm or became sick) and has provided me with my job, so really every paycheck is from Him. God has provided money for school when it seemed all but impossible, . . . and even though those are relatively small things, shouldn’t i realize that He will continue to provide in the big things? what about the rest of our lives?

    i kind of doubt that when we are 75, God would just say, “oops sorry, since you didn’t make the right financial investments, I think I’ll stop taking care of you now”.

    but if i could just maintain that perspective, then i wouldn’t worry about money and possessions.
    i’m just me, and God is God, and money is just this stuff that everyone uses to operate around here.

    So, in the rare moments that I have this blessed clarity of mind, RRSP’s sound, well, …silly. Besides, what should retirement look like? really its just another modern construct of our culture.

    And then there’s the possibility that these banks that we buy financial “security” from may not actually have the permanence and stability that they want us to believe they have. Currently, North America has had the longest period of economic stability in history. (…recall the stock market crash and the ensuing economic depression of the 1930’s? that was only 60 years ago.)
    I personally believe that our man-made god known as The Economy lies on the edge of a knife.

    just my 2 cents.

  4. Friends, it is refreshing to read through these thoughts and hear how you are challenging, reflecting and acting.
    I apologize for throwing a new topic in here, but I noticed male language for God used throughout the posts. I am hoping not to be pegged as the token feminist here, so please let me explain.
    Until this school year, I had not yet given this topic much weight, but after dialoguing with it after some inflectional comments from a prof, I realized that my relationship with God had been, in part, burdened with personifying or humanifying God (yes, I made up that word… but I like it).
    This dialogue has not been an attack on God as male, or degrading maleness in any form, but looking at who God is, how God is and accepting that God’s form is inconceivable (please don’t become distracted by Princess Bride quotes now).
    God is, (as I assume is generally accepted), not male nor female. Jesus was God-incarnate in male form, but that does not make God a male being in complete, (some feminist theology does point to the Holy Spirit as the female component of God, as the Hebrew word for Holy Spirit is feminine). There are both male and female images used for God throughout the Bible, but I don’t think that the sexuality of God is the real factor to determine.
    I suppose the question is of accepting the ‘otherness’ of God. Language does encourage sexual distinction, but for myself, referring to God as ‘He’ or ‘She’ feels completely incomplete, (similar to giving God a name at all). So then, what is the solution, given that we must use language and names of some form? For myself, I have come to just use our generic and hardly descriptive word of ‘God’ as both noun and pronoun. It felt slightly unnatural at first, but has helped me to connect with God, who is not noun nor pronoun bound.
    For a slightly biased article on this:
    For two slightly more scholarly articles:
    For a personal commentary from a nice sounding lady:

  5. Jac: good ruminations there, especially about us putting unfounded faith in the stability of our economic system which, in my view, is built on a house of cards and is just waiting for the right gust of wind to come along…

    Karin: although you’re off-topic, that’s how conversations happen: one thing runs into the next. You raise some excellent points surrounding the gender-inclusive debate.

    I’m leery of jumping on any bandwagon, and these types of issues have a bandwagon-y feel to me, which is why I (thus far) continue to use the masculine pronoun for God. There’s something refreshing sometimes about resisting the often unfounded dogma of political correctness. However, the advocation of dropping the pronoun altogether is intriguing and a new thought to me. I will definitely have to ponder that one for a while.

    I will resoundingly agree that God transcends gender. True, the second person of the Trinity was incarnated as a male and it looks like He’s staying that way, so it is most certainly appropriate to speak of Jesus with the masculine pronoun. It’s a bit of a linguistic stretch to assign a female gender to the Holy Spirit, even though ruach is a feminine noun in Hebrew. My Greek professor Peter Davids is a supporter of CBE, but he says that, as nice as that makes things, it’s a stretch to feminize the Holy Spirit based on a feminine noun.

    There’s so much more that could be spoken of here. Maybe I’ll have to do a post surrounding this yet…

  6. I definitely sympathize with your leeriness. I suppose I have found it to be an important topic because by continuing to be non-inclusive (of who God is) we misrepresent the true being of God.

    I found that I would like be sensitive (even if it feels like a trend or “bandwagon-y”) to how the world around me will interpret my language. Even if we understand that our use of male pronouns does not encompass who God is, do we really need to create more ways for people to see Christianity as stagnant, traditionalist or patriarchal?

    A bit of a rant… I would definitely like to see a post about this…..

  7. Maria just brought up an interesting point about our language for the Holy Spirit. She commented that we do not allow for an identification of the being of “the Holy Spirit” by placing ‘the’ before the name, but rather we should say ‘Holy Spirit.’ We may be making ‘Holy Spirit’ sound like an object and non-relational or less relational.

    Describing the indescribable is obviously difficult, but how we speak of the being we name ‘God’ defines how we relate and believe God is.

    Oi another rant. Apparently paper writing season is over and I can start to think about life and concepts outside of my scholarly ambitions again…

  8. Welcome to the end of paper-writing season. Let the semantic dance begin. :)

    I think that I’ll leave off commenting here… a post on this would seem to be fore-ordained.

  9. So this is how the story goes. My great grand parents owned a super nice resort in Germany. They decided to sell and two days later the depression hit and there wheelbarrow full of money was now only worth a loaf of bread. They had to go back to there trades, which was making shoes and being a seamstress. This experience has instilled in there generations to come a very strong work ethic and the knowledge that you could loss everything so stuff doesn’t mean anything. Just make sure you can do something with your hands.

    My grand parents moved here from Germany after the 2nd world war. They had a hard life of farming and construction. Things weren’t easy and there wasn’t a lot of money. Before they died they said they wished they hadn’t worked so much. My mother was born out of this life. She has a very strong work ethic and has passed that on to both my brother and I. Lots baby boomers would have had a similar experience.

    I have come to realise that there are a couple different types of kids of the boomers. There are the kids like my brother and I who grow up knowing that you don’t get anything for free. You have to work. Your parents will be there to love and support you but you have to fend for yourself. They will not give you everything on a silver platter.

    Then there are the parents that felt there growing up years where too hard and that they would never want this for there children. So they instead do everything for them. This is one reason why there are no good workers anymore. No one is used to working. Mommy and Daddy do everything for them so they never have to grow up.

    Right after I finished school a financial advisor approached me and wanted to advise me on my finances. I told him I have no finances, I have debit. He wanted to sell me RRSP’s and I just thought he was out of his mind.

    Well now 10 years later and the student debit is long gone, but now there is the house and the car …etc. I am also self employed. This means you have to do everything for YOURSELF. Health Insurance, Disability insurance, liability insurance, malpractice insurance, licenses, business insurance., TAXES….etc. To cover me for all the “what ifs”. Do I let the “what ifs” control me? NO. Is it because I put my faith in God? Sure that is why I don’t worry everyday. Does he give me a sense of security. Certainly. But will I not buy insurance or RRSP’s because I put my security in God? You would have to be insane to believe God doesn’t think we can do some of the details ourselves.

    I always find it interesting to talk to employed people who never have to worry about all the details because their employer is already looking after them. If you work for someone, then they are thinking about your health needs and retirement. In theory you don’t have to do anything. This is if you are comfortable working till you are 80, living in your kids basement and never being self sufficient in your old age.

    Planning for your future is not anti God unless you take it to that extreme. Not planning for your future is also not a good example of putting all your faith in God. It is pure laziness or just a very lofty thing to think about when you don’t have any money yet.

  10. So this is my disclammer. The tone of this is not to be me against you. What I have learned over the years has greatly changed my view on how involved I have to be in my own security. Especially since I am self employed and have been screwed over too many times in bad work arrangements.

    I think we just all need balance when it comes to finaces and God. There are things we can do ourselves with out forgetting God loves us and all he wants is for us to fall into his arms and let him take care of us.

    But you can rid yourself of much stress if you are organised and take care of some basic things yourself.

    So sorry I wasn’t following the other comments and going back to the post.

  11. I’m amused that two things that I didn’t think too much about have become the major focus for conversation here: RRSPs and pronouns. ;)

    Anyways, good to hear your thoughts Shayla, especially the process and history. We certainly do have to, to some degree, operate within the systems of this world, some of which are benign, some of which are hostile to faith.

    I agree that, in participating in in the economic system that we live in, we have to largely take care of ourselves. What I’m interested in is asking questions about that. Why are things this way? Do they have to be this way? Is self-sufficiency a concept that I can faithfully buy into? How could we live differently than this? I ask too many questions, even for myself. Cursed inquisitiveness.

    I find the thought of tension to be much more helpful than balance myself. In tension we’re being pulled in two (or more) directions. Things are active and alive, and I find myself in the middle and I feel unsorted much of the time.

    To turn it theologically, it’s like being caught in the tension between the kingdom of God (where everything is good and perfect) and this world (where many things are corrupt). Being pulled into the kingdom causes me to strive for unattainable ideas, because the kingdom is not here yet and I have to live in a much-less-than-perfect reality.

    So, will I buy RRSPs? I probably will, but I’m also hoping that some creative people will conspire with me to come up with ideas for life which make them unnecessary. Will there be tension, whatever I decide? Absolutely. The longer I live, the more I see that there are fewer and fewer easy answers, and yet that there is peace to be found in the tension.

  12. Thanks Matt for your clarity in your writting. You sum things up really well. I really felt I needed to post but have to say I wish we were having this conversation face to face. Computers drive me crazy!!!! This is were I am not willing to enter the future.

  13. Shayla: Indeed. Online communication like this has some definite lack. No body language, no eye contact…

    Ariah: Ah yes, I forget that RRSP must be a uniquely Canadian acronym. You are correct: it’s a Registered Retirement Savings Program which essentially allows you to set aside a certain amount of your income towards retirement. This money is removed from your taxable income, which is the government’s way of encouraging people to do so.

  14. Gotcha just like an IRA here. Now I can understand the conversation a little better!

    Great discussion, I’ve been thinking about this, particularly related to saving money. Thanks for peaking my interest again.

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