Thursday: The Answer to Materialism

Romans 12:2 In this week’s studies, we learn that if we are to avoid conforming to the world around us, we must learn to recognize God’s truth and pursue it.
The Answer to Materialism

If there is a God and if he has made us to have eternal fellowship with him, then we are going to look at failure, suffering, pain and even death differently. For the Christian these can never be the greatest of all tragedies. They are bad. Death is an enemy (1 Cor. 15:26). But they are overbalanced by eternal matters. Second, success and pleasure will not be the greatest of all goods for us. They are good, but they will never compare with salvation from sin or knowing God. Jesus said it clearly: “What good will it be for a man if he gains the whole world, yet forfeits his soul?” (Matt. 16:26). Or, from the other side, “Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but who cannot kill the soul. Rather, be afraid of the one who can destroy both soul and body in hell” (Matt. 10:28). 

And that leads to a Christian response to materialism. There are two kinds of materialism, a philosophical materialism like that of doctrinaire communism and a practical materialism which is most characteristic of the West. We have been raised with a false kind of syllogism which says that, because we are not Communists and Communists are materialists, therefore we are not materialists. But that does not necessarily follow. Most of us embrace a practical materialism which warps our souls, stunts our spiritual growth, and hinders the advance of the Gospel in our time. 

The best critique of Western materialism that I know is from Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, a former citizen of the Soviet Union now exiled. It is in an address he gave to the graduating class of Harvard University in 1978. 

Solzhenitsyn declared, “Should someone ask me whether I would indicate the West such as it is today as a model to my country, frankly I would have to answer negatively…. Through intense suffering our own country has now achieved a spiritual development of such intensity that the Western system in its present state of spiritual exhaustion does not look attractive.” He maintained that “after the suffering of decades of violence and oppression, the human soul longs for things higher, warmer, and purer than those offered by today’s mass living habits, introduced by the revolting invasion of publicity, by TV stupor and by intolerable music.”1 

According to Solzhenitsyn, the West has pursued physical well-being and acquisition of material goods to the exclusion of almost everything spiritual. 

1Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, “A World Split Apart,” The 1978 Commencement Address at Harvard University, Harvard Gazette, June 8, 1978, 17-19.

Study Questions
  1. How does a Christian see pain and death in a different way than a non-Christian?
  2. What is practical materialism?
  3. Why was Solzhenitsyn able to see more clearly the failures of the practical materialism of the West?

Application: How have you adopted materialism in your thinking and behavior? What harmful effect has this had—or may yet have—on your spiritual growth.

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