Christians & Their Idols

26 01 2014

We can bear neither our vices nor their cure. — Livy

It is a difficult day and time to make disciples of Jesus the Messiah– especially in our churches. Entirely too many of our churches have bought into the beliefs and practices of the culture surrounding them. As a result, they look much like the Jerusalem in Solomon’s time: yes there is the Temple of the one, real God, but throughout the city are also temples and idols to a plethora of other “gods” and powers. Many of us Christians sitting in the pews of our sanctuaries (or the chairs of the auditoriums of our “worship centers”), do not have idols on our shelves, but we do have idols in our thinking and our doing. In other words, we (and I include myself in this) worship many of the same “gods” that our declining culture worships, but we haven’t yet awakened to the fact of it.

It’s odd that we don’t see the homage we pay to the deities of our time. For example, many of us would agree with Rabbi Jonathan Sack’s assessment that our culture

“…has already gone far down the road of abandoning the Judeo-Christian principles of the sanctity of life and the sacred covenant of marriage. Instead, it places its faith in a series of institutions, none of which can bear the weight of moral guidance: science, technology, the state, the market, and evolutionary biology. Science tells us what is, not what ought to be. Technology gives us power but cannot tell us how to use that power. The liberal democratic state, as a matter of principle, does not make moral judgments. The market gives us choices but does not tell us which choices to make. Evolutionary biology tells us why we have certain desires, but not which desires we should seek to satisfy and which not. (2013 Erasmus Lecture, FIRST THINGS, January, 2014)

And yet, how many of us bow at the altars of science, technology, government, consumerism, entertainment, and the rest? When someone is sick in your home, what is your first impulse? To pray or to reach for a bottle of pills? I am in NO way advocating that “true faith” avoids doctors and medicines– they are from God as well. I’m simply asking about our initial reaction? I can tell you mine: I wonder how many specialists will have to be seen, how many prescriptions; and I wonder if science will find a cure. I seem, mostly, only to come to prayer when the illness or condition appears to be beyond the reach of today’s science. Or how about the number of people you know who love Jesus and go to church but usually look to government to solve their problems and make life better? And how many Christians do you know who spend entirely too much time and money on the latest technology in order to have an optimal gaming or movie or sports watching experience (not to mention what we spend on phones & tablets!)?

We look, I look, to these idols and expect them to fill me. And when they don’t I get frustrated, angry and depressed. These false “gods” cannot answer the deepest questions of our souls or heal our debilitating wounds. And we seem to have a love-hate relationship with them. We say, “I know I spend too much time and money on X & Y, and I need to be a better Christian, but I don’t want to be one of those religious freaks who is always reading the Bible, going to church, fasting and helping those in need! That’s just too much!” And so we find that we can bear neither our vices nor their cure.

The bottom line is that we will not feel fully ourselves by any of the following: the latest exercise program, the newest tech, the most up-to-date medical science, great sales at the mall, the election of “our guy” as the new president, eating the latest “super-foods”, or our team winning the championship. Equally true, we will not be who we were meant to be simply by singing the newest worship song, buying the hottest Christian book on spiritual health, or finding a “dynamic” church and preacher.

If we would be cured and made whole, we will, as C.S. Lewis puts it, have to “go in for the full treatment” from Jesus. He cannot be just another “idol” on our life’s list of things we enjoy and look to for happiness and fulfillment. We must allow him to be King of the Mountain of our lives, with all other idols lying broken and in disarray at the bottom of that same mountain.

How we accomplish this is a matter for another time. But it begins with recognizing the false “gods” we worship (even if we worship them in church!) and seeing them for what they are: used car salesmen who bait us with polished greatness, and switch us to a money sucking lemon. For that is what the demons do– these false “gods”. They promise us the moon, and leave us naked in the dark. It may be time to seek out and submit ourselves wholly to the Light, the One who is real and whose promises are true.

I am the light of the world. He who follows Me shall not walk in darkness, but have the light of life.

— Jesus of Nazareth (John 8:12)




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