Do You Have Affluenza?

Do You Have Affluenza?

By David Jeremiah

Do you have affluenza? Here are the symptoms: feelings of anxiety, sluggishness, stress, and guilt brought on by indebtedness and workaholism in an attempt to find fulfillment through “keeping up with the Joneses.” (Apologies to all Joneses.)

Affluenza—a combination of “affluence” and “influenza”—entered the cultural conversation in the 1970s but became a mainstream term with the 1997 production of a highly-successful PBS movie, Affluenza. The movie, released at the height of the dot-com era (before the market crashed in 2000), illustrated how affluenza had become the defining disease of our society. One staged scene in the movie shows a doctor breaking the news to his prosperous female patient, who complained of sluggishness and lack of fulfillment, that there is nothing physically wrong with her. Clearly frustrated that the doctor has no pill to offer her to relieve her debilitating symptoms, she is shocked to learn that she is suffering from (cue the dramatic organ music) “AFFLUENZA!” Gasp!

It’s taken a few decades, but people in the most developed cultures of the world, who have modeled their success on America are coming to realize that bigger-faster-richer is not always better. Building on the post-World War II boom, the ’Sixties told us that spiritual fulfillment was to be found in non-conventional places. The music group The Fifth Dimension encouraged us to fly “up, up, and away” in a “beautiful balloon” in 1967, and take a step further in 1969 by welcoming the Age of Aquarius.1 While their songs won multiple Grammy awards, their advice didn’t. Instead of flying “up, up, and away” toward spiritual affluence, modern cultures have been falling “down, down, and awry” toward spiritual affluenza.

I cannot remember in my lifetime when the American mood has been so . . . pessimistic? sour? negative? fearful? I’m not sure what the right word is, but it’s not healthy. It’s almost like we have caught a corporate case of affluenza and can’t seem to shake it off. It’s like we have awakened to the realization that the American dream has become a nightmare instead. Yes, the economy has had a lot to do with our mood. That, coupled with our status as the most indebted nation in the world, the draining reality of fighting wars on two fronts, and an unprecedented lack of confidence in our elected officials to solve any of our national problems has put us in the doldrums. There don’t seem to be any beautiful balloons available to lift us up, up, and away from the situation we’re in.

Reality Versus Reality

But let’s stop for a reality check. Yes, the picture I just painted is not a pretty one, but it is reality; it’s the way the culture is feeling. But there is a different kind of reality that we, as Christians, are to embrace. And that is the reality that this world is not our home. Perhaps songwriter Albert E. Brumley expressed it best:

This world is not my home, I’m just a passing through.

My treasures are laid up somewhere beyond the blue.

The angels beckon me from Heaven’s open door

And I can’t feel at home in this world anymore.2

He got it exactly right according to the Scriptures. We are “strangers and pilgrims on the earth” (Hebrews 11:13) because our “citizenship is in heaven” (Philippians 3:20). But we are on this earth! And therein lies our tension as believers: living in the world while not being of the world; shaking hands and grasping doorknobs in this world (it comes with fulfilling the Great Commission) while not picking up the dreaded affluenza virus. Wanting to go up, up, and away to heaven, yet wanting to represent Christ in the world (Philippians 1:23-24).

We have two realities as Christian believers. So how do we keep our focus, our joy, our priorities, and our endurance in a world that seems to be doing everything it can to drag us down instead of lifting us up?

Meet the Promise Maker

If you are a man, you may have participated in one or more of the powerful Promise Keepers events during the 1990s. This movement, still strong today using varying venues, gained visibility by filling huge football stadiums across the country with men who gathered to affirm their allegiance to Jesus Christ and to pursue godly principles of manhood.

The whole idea of men displaying spiritual integrity by keeping biblically-based promises to God, themselves, and their families is based on the faithfulness of God as a Promise Maker, and Promise Keeper, toward us. It is His promises to us as a faithful Heavenly Father (Romans 8:15), a Loyal Friend (John 15:13-15), and a Trusted Counselor (John 15:26; 16:7) that gives us the ability to make and keep our promises to others.

Likewise, it is God’s promises to us about our two realities—the failings of this world and our future in heaven—that give us strength and hope to carry on. God does us a favor by telling us that this world can never satisfy the eternal longing in our heart for something more (Ecclesiastes 3:11). And He does us yet another favor by promising to take us to an eternal home where all sorrow is gone and all joy is ours (John 14:1-3; Revelation 21:3-4).

But it is His promises about how He will care for us during our time on this earth that makes the difference between spiritual affluence and spiritual affluenza.

Be a Promise Claimer!

The promises of God represent the very best example of God’s responsibility and man’s responsibility in life: God makes the promises, but we have to claim them. From where we stand, a promise not claimed and acted upon has the same practical effect as a promise never made. If I promise to help you whenever you call me, but you never call, you never receive the benefit of my promise. God is the Promise Maker, I am the promise claimer.

There is no list of “all the promises of God” in Scripture. Instead, we find them as we read from Genesis to Revelation and discover the character of God. Whether spoken explicitly or revealed implicitly, all of God’s promises are rooted in His character. For instance, “I will never leave you nor forsake you” (Hebrews 13:5) is an explicit promise to all Christians. But God’s promise directly to the apostle Paul—“My grace is sufficient for you, for My strength is made perfect in weakness” (2 Corinthians 12:9)—is also an implicit promise to all believers. Paul spoke for all of us when he said, “For when I am weak, then I am strong [in Christ]” (verse 10). God is no respecter of persons. If the power of Christ was available to Paul, it is likewise available to us by implication.

Therefore, our task is to know the character of God so well that we can take His very being and presence as a promise, a promise made incarnate in the person of Jesus Christ. As far back as Abraham, the people of God have been seeking the same thing we seek—“a better, that is, a heavenly country. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for He has prepared a city for them” (Hebrews 11:16). And He has promised a better country and city for us as well. But in the interim, it is His promises about life on planet earth we need to embrace.

I love the six categories of God’s promises outlined in The Life Promises Bible3, and commend them to you for your own meditation:

  • Promises About God’s Principles: God has spoken and His words are true
  • Promises About God’s Presence: God is with us now and forever
  • Promises About God’s Provision: God’s resources are unlimited and are ours
  • Promises About God’s Protection: God’s purposes are our shield
  • Promises About God’s Plan: God’s desires are settled in heaven
  • Promises About God’s Preparation: God’s goal is to spend eternity with us.

What more do we need in this life than those six areas of promise? We can divide the promises of Scripture into as many categories as we want; but truth be told, when we have Jesus Christ we have all we need. Remember, “‘.they shall call His name Immanuel,’ which is translated, ‘God with us’” (Matthew 1:23). “For all the promises of God in Him are Yes, and in Him Amen, to the glory of God through us” (2 Corinthians 1:20).

1Jimmy Webb “Up, Up and Away” Aquarius/Let the Sun Shine In, recorded by The Fifth Dimension 1967 and 1969.

2Albert E. Brumley, "This World Is Not My Home,” © 1965 Albert E. Brumley & Sons.

3Kenneth Boa, general editor, The Life Promises Bible—A One-Year Study of God’s Presence, Provision, and Plan for You (Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House, 2001).