Tag Archives: tenth commandment

Name That Commandment IIb

Yesterday I made simplistic remarks about our capitalist economic system, especially the principle of supply and demand.  Fortunately a reader, a professor of economics, gave me a gracious critique of my explanation. She wrote,

I’m not sure if it is society today or human nature which creates the demand for more.    Hobbes contended people operate based on self interest while Locke didn’t believe this was always true.  . . .  The law of demand and supply are not causal models as much as they are descriptive models or this is simply what we observe in the world.  It is true that suppliers only supply what people want but it isn’t true that they have unlimited powers to make this happen as the many failed products and services can attest.

My critique is not on capitalism per se. God made us with wants and desires that are not evil in themselves.  I appreciate how the market allows us to enjoy an amazing amount of products: from Guatemalan mangos to Korean cell phones. I appreciate how the market can reward hard work.

My critique is on the pervasive nature of marketing and advertising.   I am not against all advertising.  My father worked as a newspaper advertising salesperson most of his life.    I like to know when a new product can enhance my life or where I can find a favorite product at a cheaper price.   What I struggle with is the constant barrage of messages that seem to tell me that my life story is incomplete or empty unless I have this product.   Coca Cola has been doing this in its television commercials for years.

In the novel, The Gospel According to Larry, 17 year-old Josh Swenson starts a website that attacks the consumer waste that he sees.  Josh decides to have only 75 possessions, counting all clothes, school supplies, recreational equipment, and software. He has an exact list of how many possessions he has. If he wants a new CD or book he has to sell an old one or trade for it. This means every purchase is a major decision and he takes it seriously.  The novel helped me reflect on the wants and needs of my life.

You show me the path of life.
In your presence there is fullness of joy.
Psalm 16:11

Do you think our culture overemphasizes consumption?

Lord Jesus, teach me to be a good steward of my material blessings.

Name that Commandment Part II

The ninth and tenth commandments*, “You shall not covet,” are the two most challenging commandments in our culture today.  Our consumer society is built on the idea that an individual does not have enough. It is the economic law of supply and demand.  We must create a “want” for more stuff, so that we have a demand to produce more stuff.   If there is no demand for something, there is no reason to produce it.    

Yet our mass market culture is good at producing wants.  We are constantly seeing/hearing/experiencing messages that tell us to want something, anything and everything. We are caught in the game of “wanting” the newest whatever because everyone else has it and we “need” it.  Our culture constantly stokes the fire of desire.   So when we hear the commandment, “you shall not covet,” it seems so bizarre and difficult.  Confirmation students are not the only people wrestling with this.  

Several years ago I took a group of seniors on a tour boat ride around Lake Minnetonka.  The tour guide started telling us about the large homes that surround the lake. “This property was purchased for $5 million dollars, and the new owner remodeled with another $5 million.” Or “That property was purchased for $7 million, the old house torn down, and a new house built for $10 million.”  After the boat ride, I told the group of seniors, “We just spent the afternoon breaking the tenth commandment.”  Now we may not  want a house on Lake Minnetonka, but looking and pricing such homes rarely feeds our contentment center.  

So how do we obey this commandment?  By shifting our focus away from this constant barrage for “bigger, better and more” to the Gospel message that I am loved and accepted by God just the way I am.   My real identity is not a consumer who needs more, but a steward who hold everything as a trust from God. I truly need to hear God’s message of gracious acceptance on a consistent basis.  Otherwise the culture’s message that “You are not good enough, unless you buy this or pursue that’ will win our souls. 

 How do you define “coveting?”  How do you deal with it?

 Lord Jesus, help me to seek you with all my heart and soul.

 *Martin Luther in his catechism followed the Roman Catholic tradition from St. Augustine in numbering the commandments. Presbyterians, Episcopalians and others use a slightly different system that combines the ninth and tenth commandments.