The Agora
Bible Editorials

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What's the difference between trash, stuff, and a collection? It depends.

If it gets in the way, and you see no use for it, then it's... trash -- and you throw it out!

If it gets in the way, and you might have a use for it one day, then it's... stuff -- and you shove it in a corner until later.

But if you think it's valuable, for whatever strange reason, then it's... a collection -- and you store it away carefully, after examining and analyzing and cataloging it.

So what's the difference? Why, the difference between being a slob (or at least a messy person) and -- trumpets, please! -- a collector!

Of course, there are different kinds of collectors. First, there are the casual collectors -- of clothes, shoes, books, magazines, audio tapes, video tapes, and the like. These are "things" we use, have used, or will use again; "things" we enjoy and perhaps want to share with others. Nothing too strange there. Or is there?

Then there are the serious collectors -- again, perhaps of the same clothes, shoes, books, magazines, tapes, and so forth. But the serious collector wants more than he and all of his friends can use in a lifetime; he wants to collect for the sheer pleasure of accumulating and possessing. He may join clubs, subscribe to newsletters, and attend conferences where others of similar bent study, discuss, and add to their collections.

And finally there is the passionate, or "crazy" collector. He wants everything in a particular genre. This desire becomes a fixation, an obsession; and he is willing to spend time and money -- a lot of it -- to satisfy that desire. (It's always an interesting exercise to decide where to draw the line between "serious" and "crazy". One rule of thumb: "crazy" is always just a couple of stages beyond where I am at any given moment.)

Exactly what do collectors collect? The answer is: anything and everything. Besides collections of things that can be used, there are collections of items that remind their owners of special vacations or happy times. There are "collectibles" like fine furniture, crystal, china, dolls, commemorative plates, and the complete set of 130 bound volumes of The Christadelphian magazine. Then there are collections for the profit motive: old comic books, old baseball cards out of bubble gum packs, autographs of famous people, first editions of best-sellers, paintings and other works of art, antiques. There is no end to what someone, somewhere, will consider worth collecting, and what someone else, properly motivated, will consider worth buying.

And then, there are the truly "unbelievable" collections: 18,000 puzzles, 150 varied images of the Last Supper, 5,000 Lionel toy trains, 40,000 swizzle sticks, 5,000 spinning tops, 1 million aluminum pop tops, 125 restored Studebaker automobiles. And a partridge in a pear tree!

In "Magnificent Obsession", a book about 20 obsessive collectors extraordinaire, author Mitch Tuchman quotes Leonore Fleischer, a collector of antique American beadwork, china, linens, Disneyana, and man-in-the-moon graphics: "Collecting is a disease. It's a poison that enters your bloodstream. I'm less addicted to it now than I used to be, because I've traded up so that everything I collect or used to collect is too expensive for me to buy any more, and I'm not satisfied with the cheap stuff."

Later, Fleischer describes what she believes would be an appropriate ending to her life's story: "A Viking ship burial, that's what I want. I want to be loaded up on a great big barge with all my collections, put out to sea, and the whole thing set alight. Oh, sure, but my barge would probably sink before it got a foot from the shore."

The Bible describes men whose wealth and power allowed them to become serious (or "crazy") collectors:

King Solomon collected hundreds of wives (1Ki 11:3), who brought him untold grief. Near the end of his life, he could write that he had not found one upright woman among a thousand (Ecc 7:28). And when he died, his one son proved a disaster on his father's throne.

King Nebuchadnezzar collected cities and kingdoms like so many coffee mugs, boasted of his mighty accomplishments, and then -- under the hand of Almighty God -- lost all reason and lived like an animal for seven years before the same God restored his sanity (Dan 4).

Paul equated covetousness with idolatry (Col 3:5). And Jesus warned against the evil of covetousness:

"Watch out! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; a man's life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions" (Luke 12:15).
In the parable that Jesus told to accompany his warning, a rich man says to himself:
"What shall I do? I have no place to store my crops... This is what I'll do. I will tear down my barns and build bigger ones, and there I will store all my grain and my goods" (vv 17,18).
The poor "rich" man -- the foolish "collector" of wealth -- died that very night, while planning the immense reconstruction project that would provide space to store all the crops and goods he didn't really need and couldn't really use. Jesus added the postscript:
"This is how it will be with anyone who stores up things for himself but is not rich toward God" (v 21).
By contrast to this sad tale, Jesus also said:
"Consider the ravens: They do not sow or reap, they have no storeroom or barn; yet God feeds them. And how much more valuable you are than birds!... Consider how the lilies grow. They do not labor or spin. Yet I tell you, not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these... But seek his kingdom, and these things will be given to you as well" (vv 24,27,31).
In the long run, almost every "crazy" collection has value (sentimental if not monetary) to the collector or to his heirs. But in the longest run, no collection of "things" has any real value. Jesus, and then Paul, compare the Second Coming to a visitation by a "thief in the night" (Mat 24:43,44; Luke 12:39,40; 1Th 5:2; Rev 3:3; 16:15). Why? Because a thief comes unexpectedly, and can steal away anything and everything which the homeowner considers valuable: clothes, cars, furs, jewelry, TV sets, boats, sports equipment, musical instruments. And this "thief", Jesus (!), can steal away even those intangible things upon which the possessor has placed value: jobs, vacations, friends, families, power, prestige, pride, political influence. How? Because, standing before the Lord at his return, the "collector" will realize that all the "things" for which he has striven and sacrificed in this life suddenly have no value whatsoever. And they well may mark his funeral pyre, their final blaze a brief memorial to a lifetime of wasted days.

In the view of eternity, many "collections" are truly worthless. But some "collections" have real value:

* The "collection" of God's words and teachings, treasured up in the mind:
"I have hidden (collected, preserved) your word in my heart that I might not sin against you" (Psa 119:11).
* The "collection" of credits in the bank account of heaven. Jesus said:
"Sell your possessions and give to the poor. Provide purses for yourselves that will not wear out, a treasure in heaven that will not be exhausted, where no thief comes near and no moth destroys. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also" (Luke 12:33,34).
* The "collection" of godly qualities of character. Peter wrote:
"Make every effort to add to your faith goodness; and to goodness, knowledge; and to knowledge, self-control; and to self-control, perseverance; and to perseverance, godliness; and to godliness, brotherly kindness; and to brotherly kindness, love" (2Pe 1:5-7).
* And the "collection" of friends and family who believe in the same God and hold the same hope. Paul wrote to the Thessalonians:
"For what is our hope, our joy, or the crown in which we will glory in the presence of our Lord Jesus when he comes? Is it not you? Indeed, you are our glory and joy" (1Th 2:19,20).
One day, when God sends His Son Jesus back to the earth, it will be for the purpose of helping the Father complete the greatest "collection" of all time:
"Then those who feared the LORD... 'will be mine,' says the LORD Almighty, 'in the day when I make up my treasured possession (jewels: KJV). I will spare them, just as in compassion a man spares his son who serves him' " (Mal 3:16,17).

"The Son of Man will send out his angels, and they will weed out of his kingdom everything that causes sin and all who do evil. They will throw them into the fiery furnace, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. Then the righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father. He who has ears, let him hear" (Mat 13:41-43).
May we be a treasured part of God's special and ultimate "collection", when His Son returns.

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