The Culture of Disposability

TheCultureOfDisposabilityI know a couple who owns a piece of furniture from the Civil War.

The Civil War.

It was a huge milestone in the Lallier household when our Walmart-brand cabinet survived an entire year of use without disintegrating into a heap of pressboard and plastic hardware. I wanted to post about it on Facebook. Meanwhile, there are pieces of furniture out there that have been in service for over 150 years.

That boggles my mind. I can’t begin to imagine a market offering wares designed to last for one and a half centuries. I’m impressed by anything that lasts for one and a half decades—”centuries” isn’t even on my radar. Our global marketplace is optimized to deliver cheap, disposable goods. When your $10 toaster breaks, it’s not the worst thing in the world—after all, it was only $10. So we throw it away and buy a new one. Lather, rinse, repeat.

We’re used to things breaking. A lot of things are even designed to break. It’s called “planned obsolescence.” Products with planned obsolescence are engineered with a limited lifespan, at the end of which they are designed to either break down or become useless. There are a couple reasons for this. The first and most obvious: If you have to replace your printer every couple of years, HP makes a much bigger profit than if you’re only buying ink for the rest of your life.

The second reason is a little less obvious: The average consumer puts price above quality, so the average company is perpetually cutting corners to offer lower and lower prices. The $10 toaster breaks so often simply because it’s a $10 toaster, built with the cheapest components available. Quality costs more, and in the eyes of most consumers, that quality isn’t worth the extra investment.

So instead we buy the cheapest things, expecting them to break, usually within the decade. Computers. Appliances. Cars. Houses, even. It’s frustrating when it happens, but never really unexpected. And when it does happen (with the possible exception of houses), we pitch it out and get a new one.

But it doesn’t stop there. That outlook is infectious. It’s not just the toaster that’s replaceable, but our friendships, too. Our commitments. Our values. Our beliefs. Our marriages. When they stop performing the way we want, we swap them out for the latest model. Problem solved… until, of course, that model breaks, and the one after that, and the one after that…

But hey, that’s just the way it works. You can only get so much mileage out of a toaster, right?

* * *

I think it’s hard to understand God’s way of life when we’re looking at it through the lens of our culture of disposability. Hard-wired into that culture is the idea that everything—everything—can be discarded, replaced, or traded in for something better. Nothing is designed to last. Not really.

Civil War-era furniture doesn’t mesh well with that culture. Neither do 50-year anniversaries (Proverbs 5:18). Neither does honoring your word, even when it means taking a hit (Psalm 15:4). The culture of disposability does not allow for things that never need disposing.

And yet, with God, that’s exactly what we get. He offers us “an everlasting covenant” (Ezekiel 16:60) we can count on, because He “is the same yesterday, today, and forever” (Hebrews 13:8). While the world is chasing after the latest and greatest fads, God reassures us, “I am the Lord, I do not change” (Malachi 3:6). And when the heavens and the earth have fulfilled their purpose,

They will perish, but You will endure;
Yes, they will all grow old like a garment;
Like a cloak You will change them,
And they will be changed.
But You are the same,
And Your years will have no end.
The children of Your servants will continue,
And their descendants will be established before You.

(Psalm 102:26-28)

What an absolutely incredible picture. With the backdrop of a world busy tugging at an unraveling thread, God paints us a picture of permanence. Of belonging. Of eternity.

* * *

In our physical world, things do end. Even a $500 toaster built with the finest materials known to man is going to stop working eventually. But we live in a world very much built around that obsolescence, designed to take advantage of it and turn it into a business model—a business model that can so easily color the way we look at everything in our lives, from our relationships to our religion.

But God does not change—and He offers us a way of life that is dependable, sustainable, and as unchanging as He is. In the middle of the world’s turbulence, we can have peace and calm, knowing we are anchored on a Rock that cannot be moved.

In the ultimate stroke of poetic justice, our disposable culture cannot last forever. One day, it must end—but God, along with His saints and His perfect way of life, will outlast it all.

Even furniture from the Civil War.

Until next time,

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