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It was the last word spoken by millionaire newspaper magnate Charles Foster Kane, the fictional character portrayed by the incomparable Orson Welles in the 1941 classic Citizen Kane, a film many believe – including yours truly – to be the greatest motion picture ever made.
With sincere apologies to those who have never seen the film, Citizen Kane concludes with a small group of newspaper reporters gathered together in a grandiose room somewhere within the Kane estate, Xanadu, pondering among themselves the significance of the final word uttered by the acquisitive tycoon.
As the disappointed reporters leave, the scene shifts to a handful of workers whose task it is to dispose of all of Kane’s worldly possessions into a fiery furnace, including his beloved wooden sled Rosebud, which a young Charles Foster Kane had treasured during snowy winters as a boy. So numerous were the boxes containing Kane’s belongings, that they resembled what one might imagine the inside of an Amazon.com distribution center would look like.
And yet, despite all the wealth, possessions, and relationships Kane accumulated for himself, the one thing he longed for as he lay alone dying was that old wooden sled which brought him such happiness as a child, but had eluded him during the course of his worldly endeavors as an adult.
It would be easy to assume that the problem Charles Foster Kane had is that he simply owned too much stuff. But, to draw such a conclusion raises a series of important questions. For example:
Why does such a concept as “too much” exist to begin with?
Who or what determines how “too much” is defined or when a person has reached that threshold in terms of material possessions?
Should those who happen to meet that threshold aspire to abase themselves of their possessions? If so, why?
These are crucial questions to consider because when it comes to having (or not) “too much” of anything – whether it be a thing, an animal, or a person – the issue isn’t necessarily the objects of our desire but our motive for desiring them.
“Thus I hated all the fruit of my labor for which I had labored under the sun, for I must leave it to the man who will come after me. And who knows whether he will be a wise man or a fool? Yet he will have control over all the fruit of my labor for which I have labored by acting wisely under the sun. This too is vanity.” – Ecclesiastes 2:18-19
Desire is a matter of the heart.
Biblically speaking, the heart (kardia in the Greek) represents our entire mental and moral activity, both the rational and emotional elements. Therefore, the heart, with regard to moral significance, encompasses emotion, reason, and will. The heart is the place where, for better or worse, our deepest motives, intentions, and impulses reside.
As such, desire is never predicated upon external factors such as the possessions we own, but is rooted in an internal and antecedent heart-attitude which influences our pursuit of those possessions and the significance we place upon them.
“We all profess that we are bound for heaven, immortality, and glory; but is it any evidence that we really desire it if all our thoughts are consumed with the trifles of this world, which we must leave behind us, and have only occasional thoughts of things above?” – John Owen
The story is told of an eastern ascetic, a “holy man”, who every day would sit on a prominent street corner in his city, covered in ashes as an act of self-humiliation. One day, a passing tourist asked the man if he would mind having his picture taken. “No, I don’t mind,” he said, “but first, let me rearrange my ashes.”
“But may it never be that I would boast, except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, through which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world.” – Galatians 6:14
We may not want to admit it but, the truth is, we all have our ashes, the “stuff” we’ve achieved or accumulated over the course of our lives that we enjoy taking pride in and showing off, such as our children, our bank account balance, our educational accomplishments, the tony zip code we live in, the nice car we drive, etc., and that we like to arrange in such a way as to be noticed by others so that we feel better about ourselves and the part we played in making those achievements a reality.
Notwithstanding his vast material wealth, Charles Foster Kane is no different from you or me, as the same nature that fed his desire for significance and meaning dwells within each of us.
The vainglorious pursuits which Kane engaged in were merely a reflection of a preexisting heart condition, a malady from which we all suffer – sin.
“Above all else, guard your heart, for everything you do flows from it.” – Proverbs 4:23
The reason we are cautioned against having “too much” is because the sinful condition of our heart makes us susceptible to making unwise decisions and choices that do not align with God’s will for our life.
You see, the truth is, it is not our possessions that is the problem but how our heart shapes and influences the value we place on them.
Charles Foster Kane is but one example, albeit fictional, that it is never money itself – or any other material possession – that is inherently evil, but that we would have an ungodly desire for it (1 Timothy 6:10; James 4:3).
And desire is always a matter of the heart (Mark 7:17-23).
“Little children, guard yourselves from idols.” – 1 John 5:21
The irony that everything Charles Foster Kane owned ended up as a pile of ashes at the bottom of a furnace, is that all you and I own will eventually end up likewise.
With this immutable reality in mind, perhaps it would be better for us to view our possessions not as lasting empires to ourselves but as momentary embers which, after glowing brightly for a short time, will one day flicker out so that they are no more than ashes and dust.
Humbly in Christ and for His glory alone,
DarrellImage credit: www1.tfo.org