Objects of Desire

Back in the late 1990’s I swore up and down that there is one thing I would never own. Didn’t want one, couldn’t see what possible use I could have for one, didn’t think the expense could be justified by the benefits. Can anybody guess what that was? A cell phone.

I figured we had a landline at home, I had a phone in my office. Why would I possibly need to have a phone with me wherever I went.

Now let’s fast forward 20 years. I couldn’t even imagine not having this little guy with me 24/7. Pretty much my whole life is on this pocket-sized beauty. All the contact information for everyone I know is right here. I couldn’t even tell you my wife’s phone number because I’m so used to saying “hey Siri, call Terri at home” that I haven’t physically dialed her cell phone in years. I have all my granddaughters pictures right here, so if anybody wants to see them, hit me up after church. It even helps me do my job here.

Hey Siri, what are the lectionary readings for July 29th?

Pretty cool huh? A machine that can answer questions. Can play you a song, keep track and remind you of things on your calendar, even feign indignation if you ask it something inappropriate. A machine that can act very close to human. Do any of you use Siri on your phone or a similar app on your computer? Maybe even you have Amazons Alexa device at home.

They can seem almost human, can’t they? Little devices that can answer our questions with a human voice. Objects that can seem to have a human personality.

More and more, we are seeing human qualities in nonhuman things, and we are falling in love with them. Amazon’s Alexa is a disk-shaped object that we can talk to, and many Americans are now starting their days by asking Alexa to tell them the weather, play them a song, or give them a recipe for dinner. The device may be leading some children to see a wide range of objects as living things, or at least as things that will respond to them. One app developer reports that because of Alexa, his toddler now talks to beverage coasters.

Back in the days when I was in seminary, I had learned a word that I had never heard before, anthropomorphize. It’s a word that means attributing human qualities to non-human things. Product designers often deliberate design their products to give them somewhat human qualities so that we are attracted to those items. Cars for example. Do you ever look at the headlamps of a car? Well, apparently many people do. The headlamps are often designed to be narrow and tapered to the rear. Supposedly this conveys a look of aggression. And for some reason, that appeals to many people who want their cars to look powerful and aggressive. The front grills also are designed deliberately to attract us. You know the front grills that curve upwards some, so that the car looks like it’s smiling, that a deliberate attempt to make the car seem to have human qualities so that we are attracted to them.

There is nothing intrinsically wrong with being attracted to objects. After all, a lot of the objects we desire are useful and even important to have in many instances. We use them to make our lives easier or more convenient, maybe even more pleasurable. I’m the first to admit that I would be very unhappy if I had to give up my iPhone, or computer, or TV, or car. I use them all the time. And that is in point and fact what objects are for, they are to be used. They are purposefully designed to be used by humans. Used to make our lives easier, used to bring us pleasure, to entertain, to inform, to perform specific tasks.

Now all the objects I just described are many made, designed by human minds, built by human hands. But there are some objects that humanity did not create. There are things designed and created by God, that humans throughout the centuries have found desirable to have, useful to have, necessary to have for our very survival. Water for example. Placed on this earth by our creator. Necessary for us for our very existence. Then there’s Gold. A beautiful and versatile metal. An object that almost every society on this planet has desired for its beauty. A metal that the possession of which is a measure of wealth, both for individuals and whole nations.

There is nothing wrong with having these things or using these things. Except when in our desire to possess an object, we begin to love these things. We begin to love them so much that we would do anything to possess them. We would lie, steal, hurt other people, kill other people, in our desire to gain more objects for ourselves. When these objects become the most important things in our lives, over family, friends, even God, there is a major problem.

Because our primary function in life, our primary duty, is to love, not objects, not things, but other people, and most importantly, to love God. As Jesus reminds us time and time again in the gospels, we are to love God with all our heart, all our minds, all our souls, all our strength, and to love our neighbors as ourselves. Any object that becomes more important to us than those to God and/or people become not prized possessions, but something that destroys our souls. Something that separates us from God. Not because God wants it to, but because we chose to let it.

According to the Gospel of Luke, Jesus was talking with a rich young ruler, who asked Jesus what he must do to inherit eternal life. Jesus asked him if he followed the commandment, to which the young ruler replied: “of course, all my life.” Then Jesus told the man, there is one thing you lack, go, sell all you possess and give the money to the poor, then come follow me.”

And the man couldn’t do it. For all of his living according to the law, for all his desire to really be a follower of Jesus, he couldn’t bring himself to give up his possessions. They meant more to him then the eternal relationship he longed to have with God. So he went away, heartbroken. His possessions meant more to him than any relationship he could ever have. He loved objects, inanimate things that could not possibly love him back, more then the one who loved him before he was even born, and would love him for all eternity if only he gave his love in return.

Now don’t get me wrong here, there is nothing evil or sinful about having things or wanting things in and of itself. God doesn’t tell all of us to get rid of our all our possessions. Sell our houses, get rid of our cars, toss our cell phones in the garbage, throw all our money away and live like paupers. But when these things become more important to us than our relationships with others, then we have a serious problem. One that we need to address in our lives immediately before it destroys us. We’ve grown to love objects more than people, more than God. And that is not how God wants us to live.

This cell phone for example, even though I find it very useful in my day to day life, even if it makes my life easier, even if it provides me with a great deal of fun, I would toss it away in an instant if by doing so I could save my wife, my children, any of my friends, even any of you from suffering any pain.

There is another problem though that our reading from 2 Samuel addresses today. It’s not about loving objects more then people, it’s about turning people into objects. It’s something that is very easy to do, something that even the most faith-filled people can often find themselves doing without even realizing it at first.

When we think about King David, what first comes to mind? The brave Shepard boy who killed the giant Goliath with only a slingshot. The reverent man to whom most of the book of Psalms is attributed. The noble king who made Israel a great, powerful nation. All very true.

But this passage today shows us another, darker, uglier side of David. A side of himself that he probably never even thought existed, until he came upon a temptation he just couldn’t resist. It was during the Ammonite war, when the armies of Israel went out to defend Israel against the aggression of their northern neighbors, in what we would now call the Kingdom of Jordan.

David had not gone out with his army. But stayed at his palace in Jerusalem. He had, after all, led his people in multiple wars, and perhaps he figured that his generals were talented enough to beat their enemies without him having to micromanage the campaign.

So there he was, walking on the roof of his palace, contemplating the war, maybe even spending some time in prayer, when he sees her for the very first time. Bathsheba. Naked, taking a bath in a neighboring garden. A vision of pure loveliness. And at that moment, he wanted her. Not to get to know her over a meal, or during a walk in the city. He didn’t care anything about what her personality might be. He didn’t know if she was married or engaged, didn’t care about her personal situation. All he could see was a collection of body parts that could bring him pleasure, and he wanted them.

He asked his advisers who she was, and they told him that she was the daughter of one of his very own generals, and the wife of one of his finest, bravest soldiers, Uriah. He didn’t care. He didn’t care about the shame he was putting her through or the pain and anger he would cause his faithful soldier Uriah. He sent for her and went to bed with her. She had no choice in the matter. He was the King, and she was only a woman. Which meant at that time and in that culture, she had very few rights and had no way to refuse Davids desires. Her husband and her father were both away, fighting for the very King who now was objectifying her. There was no one to turn to, no one to appeal to.

Does this situation sound familiar? Yup. Over these past few years especially, we’ve seen hundreds of women, and yes even men, who have gone through the very same ordeal as Bathsheba. did, coming out about what happened to them in what we call the “me too” movement. Finding themselves unwillingly coerced by people in a position of power and authority to give themselves up sexually, because to these people, they were only objects for their pleasure. Not humans with feelings, not humans who have rights, especially the right to say no, just objects for someone’s momentary pleasure. Many of these abusers where people pretty much like David, normally pretty good individuals, but yet who when presented with the temptation to objectify someone else and use them as objects to fulfill their own desires, didn’t think about what they were doing, and gave in to the temptation they faced.

Now David probably thought he had gotten away with it. But some weeks later, he received a two-word note. “I’m pregnant.” And his first thought was how to cover up his crime.

He sent for Uriah and offered him the opportunity to go home for a night, be with his wife, hoping that they would make love and Uriah would think that the child Bathsheba. bared with his own. But Uriah refused. He refused to enjoy the comfort of his home and his bed when his fellow soldiers were out sleeping in tents on a battlefield. So he slept outside the palace gates with Davids other servants.

Now David tried another tact. He invited Uriah to the palace to share in a feast and to get him drunk. Again he invited Uriah to go home to his wife, but Uriah again refused.

Now David panicked. He didn’t see Uriah as a friend anymore. He didn’t see him as a loyal servant to the throne. He didn’t see Uriah’s life as something sacred. He saw Uriah as only an object to be destroyed. So the next day, he had Uriah carry a sealed letter to Davids general Joab, a letter that ordered that Uriah be put in the very front line during the next battle, where the fighting would be at it’s fiercest, then to pull back the other troops so that Uriah would be slain. And he was.

Now the story doesn’t end here. David married Bathsheba. and she bore him a son. His firstborn.

He was probably thinking that he got away with his sins. His adultery with Bathsheba., his murder of Uriah. But a curious thing happened. One day he was visited by the Prophet Nathan. And Nathan told him this parable.

Once there were two men, a rich man, and a poor man. The rich man had whole herds of sheep, while the poor one had only one small lamb that he loved. Caring for it lovingly, even to the point of allowing it to sleep in his own bed. One day a traveler came to visit the rich man. The rich man wanted to throw a feast, but he was too stingy to slaughter one of his own lambs, so he had the lamb of the poor man slain and offered up as a feast to the visitor.

When David heard this story, he exploded in righteous indignation, “That man ought to be hung.” “He had no right to take the poor mans lamb. He should have to pay at least 4 times the lambs price for his evil.”

“You’re the man!” said Nathan. “And here’s what GOD, the God of Israel, has to say to you: I made you king over Israel. I freed you from the fist of Saul. I gave you your master’s daughter and other wives to have and to hold. I gave you both Israel and Judah. And if that hadn’t been enough, I’d have gladly thrown in much more. So why have you treated the word of GOD with brazen contempt, doing this great evil? You murdered Uriah the Hittite, then took his wife as your wife. Worse, you killed him with an Ammonite sword! And now, because you treated God with such contempt and took Uriah the Hittite’s wife as your wife, killing and murder will continually plague your family. This is GOD speaking, remember! I’ll make trouble for you out of your own family. I’ll take your wives from right out in front of you. I’ll give them to some neighbor, and he’ll go to bed with them openly. You did your deed in secret; I’m doing mine with the whole country watching!” Then David confessed to Nathan, “I’ve sinned against GOD.” Nathan pronounced, “Yes, but that’s not the last word. GOD forgives your sin. You won’t die for it. But because of your blasphemous behavior, the son born to you will die.”
David was forgiven by God, but the consequences of his actions would last far beyond his own reign as king of Israel. Years of unrest and civil war lay ahead. His people would begin to turn against him. As he had more children, one of them, Absalom, would lead a civil war against David that would almost tear the country in two. Davids last years were spent fighting his own son in battle. And eventually leading to Absolams death.

All this strife, all this heartache, all this bloodshed could have been avoided. It all happened because David turned Bathsheba. into an object for his lust. It all happened because David no longer saw his loyal servant Uriah as a human, worthy of respect, but only as a disposable object to be used and gotten rid of when he became an obstacle for David.

Of course, it is not only kings and celebrities who treat people like objects. Each of us, in our own way, can put our own desires ahead of another person’s welfare, or treat someone as a stepping-stone as we pursue our own agendas. Maybe we befriend a fellow student because they can help us pass a test; hire an immigrant day laborer so that we can pay them a cheaper hourly rate; date a wealthy person so that they will buy us expensive gifts; manipulate someone to think we love them because we want to have sex with them; keep our employees at a part-time level so we don’t have to pay for health insurance. Treating people like objects is not limited to the world of sexual misconduct. It can happen anywhere and anytime.

Fortunately, a simple formula exists to keep us on the right track: Love people, not things; use things, not people. How differently the story of King David would have turned out if he had really loved Bathsheba and Uriah, treating them as the valuable people they were. Instead, he treated them like things, things designed to satisfy his desires and advance his agenda.

Remember, love people, not things. See everyone as a precious child of God, made in the image of God. Respect them as daughters, wives, sons, husbands, mothers, fathers, loyal workers, faithful fellow Christians. Love them as Christ loves them, remembering the commandment of Jesus to love one another. “Just as I have loved you,” he said to his disciples, “you also should love one another” (John 13:34).

Also, use things, not people. Use Alexa to tell you the weather and play your favorite songs. Use a car with an upturned grille to get you to work and take your children to soccer practice. Use your computer to keep your calendar straight and make you more productive.

But don’t ever love these things so much that they draw your attention completely away from the flesh-and-blood human beings around you.

Love people, not things. Use things, not people. Such guidance can be a huge help to us, as we face our objects of desire.

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