When my wife and I take walks in our suburban neighborhood, we marvel at the number of oversized vans and trucks parked on streets and in driveways. They do not fit in the garages originally constructed in the 1970s for civilized vehicles. These beasts are not used for construction or heavy work. They are extreme—for no functional reason. Given the rise in gas prices, we may soon see them up on blocks, serving as playground de facto equipment.
In another more upscale Denver neighborhood, it is common to see so-called Sport Utility Vehicles (SUVs)—behemoth vehicles typically used for neither sport nor utility. I see many Lexus SUVs. This makes as much sense as a “Cadillac Jeep.” These are luxury cars that give the appearance of being “sporty.” But no one will take them into the wild. They are displays of extreme wealth pretending to be something useful.
While in a bicycle store to have some work done on my mountain bike (which I do not use for “extreme sports,” don’t worry), I noticed a cycle selling for over $1,000. This was probably was not the most expensive model. In another store I saw a poster of man on a mountain bike that read, “Life is excess.” A thousand dollars for a recreational bicycle is excessive. We can easily avoid making such purchases without missing out on anything. Have you ever seen the motto, “Extreme virtue”?
Portions at fast food restaurants are also becoming extreme. Health journalist Jean Carper notes that “a 1950s fast-food burger contained little more than 1 ounce of meat; a soft drink was 8 ounces (1 cup). Compare that with today’s 6-ounce burger patty and 32- 64-ounce drunks—a quart to a half gallon!” Extreme portions makes for extreme girth, which makes for poor health.
One could go on, but the point is this: Americans tend to be extremist and excessive, especially in times of general economic prosperity. Given the law of diminishing returns and our willingness to spend more and more, the extremism becomes increasingly extreme. It also reveals a disorder of the soul.
Extremism is an external attempt to compensate for a lack of inner peace or purpose in one’s life. We crave stimulation, bigness, and bravado to hide our inner emptiness and to impress others. But beneath it all is the same needy, shabby self, which can never be cured by the excesses of the flesh.
This should remind us of King Solomon, whose restless worldliness led him to extreme behavior. He amassed for himself great possessions, entertainment, political power, slaves, and illicit sexual conquests—all in the hope of finding meaning. “Yet when I surveyed all that my hands had done and what I had toiled to achieve, everything was meaningless, a chasing after wind; nothing was gained under the sun” (Ecclesiastes 2:11). He also observed that, “Whoever loves money never has money enough; whoever loves wealth is never satisfied with his income” (5:10).
The prophet Isaiah understood this perennial problem and its solution: “Why spend money on what is not bread, and your labor on what does not satisfy? Listen to me, and eat what is good, and your soul will delight in the richest of fare (Isaiah 55:2-3).
Jesus offers the deepest satisfactions to the needy soul—not on our materialistic terms, but on his spiritual terms. We must trust in him alone for our salvation, not in our possessions or our entertainment. “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest,” Jesus promised (Matthew 11:28). We receive Jesus’ shalom rest, only when we repent of our selfish extremism, take up our crosses, and follow him. The fruit of the Holy Spirit that Jesus gives is self-control (Galatians 5:23). This produces a thirst for righteousness, not excess (Matthew 5:6).
Storing up treasures in heaven is far safer, saner, and more satisfying than indulging in the extremism of the world (Matthew 6:19-24). Through Christ, let us claim this holy reality for ourselves and share it with others.