The other day my favorite pair of jeans finally wore out. I tried to replace them online and also in-store, but they were nowhere to be found. In my frustration, this raised a number of questions in my mind about why certain styles of clothing aren’t continually manufactured, and why clothes seem to get holes in them at faster rates than I remember.
Fashion trends come and go like the wind, and if you’re concerned with trying to keep up, you find yourself needing to buy new clothes much more often. It reminded me of this little thing called planned obsolescence, and how it might be partly to blame for the unwelcome cycle of replacing things at high rates of frequency.
Planned obsolescence is “a policy of producing consumer goods that rapidly become obsolete and so require replacing, achieved by frequent changes in design and the use of nondurable materials.” We see it in things like the lifespan of lightbulbs, irreplaceable batteries in tech products, short-lasting printer ink cartridges (ugh!), and even major appliances. My wife and I have replaced our dishwasher 3 times in the 16 years we’ve owned our home. That’s…not awesome.
The idea is that if things fail quicker, then people will be forced to replace them or buy the updated versions at a faster pace. Is it legal? Depends on who you ask. But from a business standpoint, it makes sense how companies would benefit from designing products that don’t last forever. Why not create a felt sense of need between you and your customer base that pads your pockets?
So, planned obsolescence is a bad thing for consumers. What’s interesting, though, is that the Bible spins this idea in a positive light. Not with lightbulbs or iPhones, but with covenants.
Hebrews 8:13 says, “By calling this covenant ‘new,’ he has made the first one obsolete; and what is obsolete and outdated will soon disappear.” The author of Hebrews is referencing Jeremiah, an Old Testament prophet, and essentially saying that even 700 years before Christ, the old system — epitomized by “Do this and then you will live” (Lev 18:5) — was, itself, growing old. It was starting to fade. So God promised a new one that dawned with Christ’s first advent, culminated in his death and resurrection, and has been opening up like a flower under the sun ever since.
God wasn’t surprised by any of this. Jesus wasn’t his plan B. He designed the first covenant to fail. He planned its obsolescence. The laws and ordinances that stood between God and Israel, wrapped up with their conditions, “if-thens,” and associated judgments, were always meant to give way to a new and better design. They served a purpose for a time, exposing humanity’s faults like a mirror, pointing ahead to greener pastures. But now those pastures are here, pastures that would be defined by grace, one-way love, and divine self-sacrifice.
That’s good news. See, it’s not just the old system proper that’s disappearing, but what the system precluded. God, through Jesus Christ, has “outdated” our attempts at proving ourselves, since his atoning death has purchased our forgiveness. He has made obsolete the need to wash up before we enter into his presence since we are cleansed not by our actions but by his. He has shown our acts of piety to be “nondurable” since his Son’s blood has spoken a much sturdier word, the word of his own suffering.
And so we’re left with only one product to buy — the new product — but we don’t have to spend anything for it. It’s free. More than that, it will never go out of style. It’s built to last forever because it’s built on God himself and his “better promises” (Heb 8:6), not on us. Maybe that’ll take the edge off the frustration the next time we need to hop on Amazon to buy printer ink (yet again). All things are like grass, meant to wither, even the old works-centered covenant itself so that we might get outside ourselves and long for that which truly lasts.
This post originally appeared on mbird.com