World War II ended many years of geographic isolation for some of the inhabitants of certain South Pacific islands. The Allied forces used some of these islands as supply depots; planes would drop cargo from the air via parachute or unload the supplies after landing on temporary airstrips. Natives living on the islands beheld such wonders as Zippo lighters that produced flames from one’s hand, Jeeps roving over the landscape, power tools and machinery leveling trees and moving earth and preserved foods eaten from cans.
This technology led tribes to an interesting but erroneous line of thought: there must be a connection between the “rituals” performed by the troops (talking into a radio, marching around with guns, having hangers with small planes inside them) and the arrival of larger planes from the “gods,” laden with “magical” wonders from the modern world. When the war ended, and the Allied forces departed, shrines began to be erected on the islands: full-size models of bamboo and vine cargo planes inside mock hangers near crudely-constructed landing strips lined with native-built, non-functioning control towers. Some natives went through “drills” that entailed marching around in ranks with sticks resembling guns and talking on coconut headsets. Objects such as lighters, cameras, pens and any other modern trappings became venerated icons. All the while, they watched the skies waiting for the gods to smile upon their efforts in replicating the details of the “rituals” and reward them with a low-flying cargo plane heavy with treasures.
Sadly, some missionaries found great difficulty in evangelizing these groups because they weren’t looking for the God, but for what a god could bring to them. Even showing up on the islands with modern items would give the natives great joy because they believed that finally the second coming of the cargo gods had occurred. The call to lead a sacrificial life seemed to pale by comparison to easily gained comforts and treasures.
It’s easy to dismiss the “cargo cults” with a chuckle and a shake of the head, but stop and consider the questions we ask often…
“What does Jesus have that I need?”
“How can God help me accomplish my goals and bring me success?”
“What is in church for me?”
“I did my part; God, how will you reward me?”
The essential thrust of each question is the same: “Where’s my cargo?” It’s the central question behind every sinful search of every human heart.
Colossians reminds us that “all things were created through him and for him. And He is before all things, and in him all things consist” (1:16b-17). He created all things for himself, including you and me. God doesn’t exist for us; we exist for him. Our acts of worship are to be offered to Christ because he alone is worthy of the praise, not because I’m trying to get something out of him.
As one great preacher of old said, “It’s not what you can get from him, but what he will get from you.”
You don’t have to be living in America in the 21st century to be materialistic, and you don’t have to be isolated in the South Pacific to have the wrong view of God.
We will align our desires with God’s so that our prayers will not be misdirected. – James 4:3 You ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly, to spend it on your passions.
We would remember that all things belong to God alone. – Psalm 89:11 The heavens are yours; the earth also is yours; the world and all that is in it, you have founded them.
We will know that God gives to us out of his grace so we might be equipped to serve him. – 2 Corinthians 9:8 And God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that having all sufficiency in all things at all times, you may abound in every good work.