Jesus Versus the Trade-In Society: Finding Happiness in an Age of Upgrading

It seems to me that if there’s one thing our current version of ad capitalism teaches us all, it’s that everything is replaceable: everything can be reproduced, or swapped out for a new and improved model. And that applies to coaches, to churches, to spouses. We live in an exchange society.

Sometimes you come across an idea that you instantly know is going to be game-changing in your life. Few years ago, an essay by Alan Jacobs gave me just that.

“We live in an exchange society.” This phrase, perhaps more than anything I have read outside of scripture, beautifully and powerfully encapsulates the essential characteristic of modern American culture. Whether we’re buying phones, gyms, or even relationships, we’re an age that cherishes the words “no commitment necessary” and “cancel anytime.” We are an exchange society, where the promise of eventually being able to replace anything or anyone lurks beneath all of our experiences, even our spiritual lives.

exchange company

The values ​​of the exchange society are all around us. Abortion – the choice to kill an unborn baby and avoid inconvenience or expense – is perhaps the ultimate Western symbol of this. What could better embody the spirit of “everything is replaceable” than a legal practice of eliminating human beings, bearers of eminently divine images? do not replaceable?

But there are many other manifestations of takeover society. Families disintegrate in the takeover society through no-fault divorce laws and “achieve your best self” mantras that sideline children and covenant. Employers who abuse and manipulate their workers because they know where to find someone else to fill the role cheaply administer the exchange company.

And of course, millions of us go to church with expectations and demands adapted by corporate society. We will hang around for music and preaching that “speaks to us,” but membership takes time and serving is too inconvenient. Not to mention that if church leaders ask too many questions or push too far into our lives, we know where the nearest exit is and where the next closest church is.

empty wells

When it comes to the origins of the exchange company, we could mention many factors. We could talk about the industrial revolution and the divine sense of self-determination that our tools give us. We could talk about the rise and triumph of the modern self and expressive individualism. These threads reveal the truth (and other threads could be listed), but at its core, the exchange society is a spiritual crisis before it is a cultural one.

To see this, we could listen to John Piper, in a 2009 sermon, describe how Jesus’ encounter with the woman at the well (John 4:1-26) reveals the surrender of our thirty souls to the empty promises of trade. . society.

One of the proofs of not drinking deeply from Jesus is the instability of constantly jumping from one thing to another, trying to fill the void. You may be going through sexual partners. You may be going through friends. You may be going through jobs. You may pass through churches, one after another. You may be going through hobbies. . . . You may be going through hairstyles, wardrobes or cars. You may be passing through places where you live. Because there is no deeply satisfied identity in Christ. . . .

Jesus said, “Come to me, and you will find the stability of a satisfied identity.” Then you don’t move around as much, jumping here, jumping there. Craving, craving, craving, but nothing works.

“Basically, the exchange society is a spiritual crisis before being cultural.”

We create the exchange society by our spiritual thirst. Like the woman at the well, we spin through life, searching for the next thing that will finally close the gaping cavern of our hearts. We view everything and everyone around us as replaceable because we’re desperate to find that one thing that will never let us down, and despite everything marketing departments have taught us, we know deep down that any new thing, or place, or even no one in our lives will do for us what we desperately want them to do.

Deepest thirst satisfied

So what does the opposite of the exchange society look like? It looks like people whose deepest spiritual thirst has been satisfied by Christ. “If anyone is thirsty, let him come to me and drink” (John 7:37). The insatiable need for novelty and replacement fades if our hearts are attached to the person whom moths and rust cannot touch and neither thieves nor death can take away.

We need not fear commitment or its consequences when we know that whatever hardship or suffering awaits us, all things work together for our good (Romans 8:28). Imagine how this could transform all areas of life and culture. The unexpected pregnancy goes from overwhelming and optional to something difficult but glorious. Marriages that seem hopeless and exhausting become places of deep sacrifice in the name of a preserved covenant.

It sounds like familiar examples, but the exchange society needs transformation in places in our lives that we don’t think about as often. If always chasing after the next career opportunity means perpetual uprooting and a revolving door of friends and churches, could Jesus’ provision of support inspire us to place economic ambition at the feet of greater goods?

Or consider the contemporary temptation of “doomscrolling”: mindlessly consuming information at a pace that exceeds thinking skills, often simply to be “in the know”. The choppy transition from one thing to the next doesn’t have to look dramatic to signal a tired, thirsty heart.

In search of the final triumph

The exchange society seduces our consciences with fear. But as the apostle John reminds us, “perfect love casts out fear” (1 John 4:18) – and the same love that casts out fear of final punishment can overcome fear of market society. Such love grounds us, makes us grateful for the people and places God has placed around us, and pulls us out of ourselves so that we can sacrifice for each other.

“It is the assurance of ultimate victory that creates the strength to resist desperation for something new.”

The love that God pours into our hearts through the gospel is not only a love looking back but also a love looking forward. To use the opening example of Jacobs’ essay, a professional sports team is almost always willing to fire a coach or eliminate a player if they believe it will help them win. Imagine, however, that a team discovered before the start of the season that they were guaranteed to win the championship with the exact roster and coaching staff they now had. If they really believed in this prediction, no difficulty could make them fire anyone. It is the assurance of final victory that creates the strength to resist despair for something new.

Christians have the guaranteed, absolute, and infallible assurance of final triumph in Jesus. This is why we can be a people who resist the market society and, in doing so, bear witness to a better society, a society in which all the tear is wiped away and every secret desire fulfilled by the One who will never leave.

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