You probably have some human faces pressed together in your pocket. A penny portrait of Lincoln. A Jefferson nickel. A quarter icon of Washington.
We do like our money to have a human element to it.
This is nothing new, of course. Coins stamped with human faces go back at least 2,600 years to Lycian coinage. By the time of Alexander the Great, it became standard practice.
When we look at money, what do we see? People.
I doubt we realize just how brimming with irony this is. But perhaps by looking at an age-old idea, rooted in the scriptures of Israel, that irony will dawn on us. It will also clarify the linkage between money, gods, and our wildly popular monetizing of people who are stamped with the image of God.
WE RESEMBLE WHAT WE REVERE
In the Old Testament, there’s a basic truism about what we worship: we begin to resemble it.
“See that idol of Baal over there?” the prophets would ask. “It has eyes but it can’t see. It has ears but it can’t hear.” Then they would go on, “So also you who bow down to that idol! Having eyes, you can’t see what the true God is doing. Having ears, you can’t hear what the true God is saying. You mirror what you revere. You’re blind and deaf and dead. You’ve taken on all the characteristics of what you worship.”
G. K. Beale says it succinctly: “We resemble what we revere, either for ruin or restoration.”
Don’t get the impression this is just ancient stuff. Museum theology. This didn’t just exist in ancient Israel; it’s as contemporary as it gets. And nowhere is the symbiotic relationship between worship and warping more evident than in the case of the liturgies of acquisition.
THE RELIGION OF ACQUISITION
Earlier I said that when we look at money, we see people. We see the faces of Lincoln or Jefferson or Washington. But flip the question around: When we look at people, do we see money? More so than we realize.
Here’s how we know. The more we:
•judge our worth and the worth of others based on financial criteria
•understand the goal of life as acquisition and consumption
•determine our country’s greatness by its GDP
•choose our leaders based solely or primarily upon how they can help us monetarily
•are restless and discontent until we’ve acquired the latest gadget...
…the more any or all of these are true, the more we’ll not just look at money and see people’s faces on it, but look at people’s faces (including our own) and see money on them.
When the real purpose of life becomes acquisition, then acquisition becomes one of our religions.
When the real purpose of life becomes acquisition, then acquisition becomes one of our religions. And when that’s our religion—what infuses our lives with meaning, identity, hope, security—then malls become churches, commercials become liturgies, purchases become sacraments, and salvation becomes (what David Zahl calls) Enoughness.
THE GOD WHO BECOMES THE HUMAN IMAGE
The prophets of old were right: we do resemble what we revere. Our anthropology is hijacked by materialism. We become just stuff who consume stuff and hope to have enough stuff to make life worth it. This is the unhappy creed of the religion of acquisition. And it leads not only to shallow pursuits in shallow lives, but to lives burdened by the constant need for more—and, worse, the fear of committing the unforgivable sin of poverty.
The prophets of old were right about something else: our only hope is in the only true God. What those prophets also foretold is the extent to which God would go to make sure we realize this.
It’s one thing for God to stand up in heaven and holler these truths down like some mountaintop yodeler. It’s quite another for him to stand on earth, with two feet and ten toes, with lungs and a heart, with a real human face and a real human voice, to say, “So your money bears a human image? I am the God who has become the human image itself. Who I am isn’t stamped on gold, silver, or copper but human flesh and blood. To see me, the Son, is to see the Father. To have me is to have all the wealth of righteousness. To be in me, and I in you, is to find your meaning, your identity, your hope, your security. I am the only Enough you’ll ever need.”
The answer to the religion of acquisition is not to take a vow of poverty and give all our possessions away. It is to find peace not in something we get or buy or acquire, but are given. It is to see in the face of Jesus what money can never buy—undeserved and unlimited crucifixion love. The kind of love that transforms us into what it is.
If we resemble what we revere, when we revere the God who is love, we become lovely. His image is impressed upon us so deeply, so irreversibly, that we become those who bear the likeness of Jesus. He is life, so we live in him. He is love, so we love in him. He is peace, so we are at peace in him. All our handwringing over getting, getting, getting is replaced by Jesus handing off gift after gift after gift to us.
“We resemble what we revere, either for ruin or restoration.” In Christ that restoration is already complete, for in him we are crowned kings and queens of creation, the beloved of God, and temples of the Spirit.
Christ is our always and ever More Than Enough.