dave ainsworth
san francisco, CA

husband, father,
christian pastor,
human being

"Detained by their precious china"


Benoit B. Mandelbrot (1924-2010) was a mathematician and scientist who studied concepts I cannot understand. But I could understand this sad note about his childhood, from a review of his recently published memoir.

The family fled to Paris in 1936, in time to escape Hitler’s advances. Looking back on dear friends who didn’t make it out, he laments their procrastination. Some, he writes, “had been detained by their precious china, or inability to sell their Bösendorfer concert grand piano, or unwillingness to abandon the park view from their windows.” 

What a sad memory! In retrospect, it's hard to believe someone could be so foolish. How do we respond to such a story? The Bible tells us about another person similarly drowned by his possessions.

And a ruler asked him, “Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” ... “One thing you still lack. Sell all that you have and distribute to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.” But when he heard these things, he became very sad, for he was extremely rich. Jesus, seeing that he had become sad, said, “How difficult it is for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God! For it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God.” Those who heard it said, “Then who can be saved?” But he said, “What is impossible with man is possible with God.” (Luke 18:18-28, ESV)

Notice that the disciples didn't respond to the story with scoffing, but with sobriety. They knew that all of us risk being enslaved by our possessions. Adolf Hitler may not be breathing down our neck, but Scripture explains that Hitler's father, Satan, is alive and active (John 8:44).

Christians know this, but we still hold on tightly to our stuff. I've listened to spouses addicted to pornography refuse to give up their internet or smart phone. I've struggled to care for lonely Christians unwilling to slow career ambitions that are crushing them. All of us are prone to be drowned by our stuff. What could I be holding on to in spite of clear warnings? When obedience calls, where am I prone to hesitate?

Are you sobered by this story? What can we do to keep our stuff from killing us?

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