Category Archives: Idolatry and Faux Saviors
My 13-year-old son has taken a liking to 70s and 80s music, and so when I take him to school we often end up listening together. I grew up listening to 80s music, but it now occurs to me that I was mostly clueless about the content that was being delivered, and what was ultimately being communicated. As I listen now with a more fully formed brain, I realize that some of the songs are about the anguish of broken or lost relationships. Sometimes I will be singing or humming along and realize I have no idea what the song means. As a matter of fact, I am convinced some songs don’t mean anything – especially 80s music. A lot of the songs are about unbridled impulses that seem to drive and own the artist, and perhaps the listener who resonates with what is being proclaimed.
For example, consider the very distinct and catchy song, “Red, Red Wine”. Neil Diamond originally wrote the song in 1967, but the English reggae and pop band, UB40, recorded the best known version in 1983. Here is a sampling of the lyrics: “Red, red wine – goes to my head – makes me forget that I – still need her so; Red, red wine – it’s up to you – All I can do – I’ve done – But memories won’t go – No, memories won’t go; I’d have sworn – that with time – Thoughts of you would leave my head – I was wrong – now I find – Just one thing makes me forget. Red, red wine – stay close to me – Don’t let me be alone…”
Should either of us be listening to this song and songs like it? What am I consuming, and in some sense, what am I am agreeing with when I listen and sing?
As I was driving my son to school and singing along with UB40, I caught myself and wondered why I was singing. I don’t like red wine and I don’t drink alcohol, and I would rather my children just avoid it altogether for convictional reasons that need not be mentioned now. But there I was, singing about red, red wine in front of my 13-year-old son. Only this time as a 42-year-old man I was actually conscious of the lyrics.
And so I asked my son, “What is the singer saying and meaning?” To which my son responded: “Well, I can’t understand half of what they are saying, but it sounds like someone is using wine to forget or escape.” He is a smart boy. He must have gotten that from his mom.
As we continued to talk about it, he was able to see that the song was really just a praise song to a functional savior. For the person who wrote this song, sings this song and embraces this song as their own, wine is a way of escaping a painful, broken relationship. If we will have ears to hear and eyes to see, we will notice everyone is singing the song of a savior. Some find rescue in sex. A few find it in science. Others find it in drugs. Many find an escape in entertainment. What is your savior? Is it work? Exercise? Man-centered religion? Social activism? Knowledge? Isn’t everyone seeking relief and rescue from something or someone?
I wanted my son to hear and see that all of us will have a savior. He will have a savior. It seems as if we are wired to worship, and that is true whether we are religious or not. Something will ultimately be valuable to us and I think he sees that because of a discussion about “Red, Red Wine”. It appears we redeemed a song about the idolatry of escape through drink. It must have struck a chord with him because he brought it up to his mom later that evening when I came home from work.
Can you identify the saviors of the world? What savior are you proclaiming? You might find the savior of the world and your savior in the songs that are sung.
One other thought: Some things should not be consumed. Some music should not be listened to. Some media should not be watched. But maybe there are times to listen in to what the world is saying and consuming to see what is being worshiped. Maybe we need to hear and see that they desire to worship as much as Christ-followers do. And maybe if we listen well and discern what is really being said, then we can introduce them to Jesus Christ, who alone can ultimately save. He is who they are looking for. And maybe we will be reminded that all the faux saviors will only deliver us so far, and that is why we cling to Christ.
I wish I wouldn’t have said that!
It seemed like a good thing to say at the time, but just a moment later I was wishing for a do-over. Surely I could have said something more constructive and hopeful!
I was on a morning walk through the neighborhood at around 6:45 a.m. when I saw one of our dedicated Richmond Rocket Teachers getting in her car, to go to the classroom to invest in the lives of children who were created in the image of God. We exchanged some very normal greetings and then I said “it”.
Brace yourself for my well-intentioned, but misguided attempt at encouragement.
“You have made it to Thursday. You are over half way there!”
After I said it, I wished her a great day and began to think about what I said, what it meant and what it implied. I don’t know how the statement was received, and I have no reason to think that it was taken adversely, but with every step I took I was increasingly bothered by it.
Is this simply me being overly self-critical, too analyticical? Both are possible, but the gnawing at my conscience was telling me otherwise.
My statement exposed a paradigm that this teacher’s calling was simply a necessary inconvenience that must be endured for the sake of getting to something better. Namely, a long weekend without children.
I am not saying that is what she thought or thinks. I am also not saying I don’t value teachers and the investment they are making in the lives of children – children like my own. My parents were educators and I went to school to be a teacher, and I became a Bible teacher.
What I am saying is that the seemingly harmless statement says something about me, and likely expresses the way a lot of other people think about a lot of different life situations.
Like most jobs in the world, if not all, teaching is a difficult profession, but shouldn’t the teacher see his or her job as a gift, an opportunity to make a difference in the lives of others? Shouldn’t I see my calling and job as a special privilege; as an opportunity rather than an unpleasant chore? Shouldn’t you see your job and all of your life as an opportunity to serve others and make a difference? Life may not be all I would like it be, but all I presently have is what I have. For the glory of God and the good of others, I want to make the most of it while I can.
Too often we get stuck in a rut of wishing life away by longing for some better future because we have failed to see that life is a gift from God that no one has earned or deserves. Life is too short to live in a future that does not yet exist and is not guaranteed. Tomorrow is a dream. Today is the only gift I can open and enjoy.
I need to be careful about what I say, but also need to examine my mind and heart. That’s why I say the things I say.
Not everyone will admit it, but everyone has one.
No, not opinions. A savior or even saviors.
Any person who is paying attention will tell you there is something wrong with the world and the people who inhabit it, and if they are honest they will admit they are also flawed.
So what’s the solution to the ills that plague us and confound us? How do we deal and cope?
It depends on who you ask, but the answer reveals who or what the person is trusting in and ultimately it reveals who or what is functioning as their savior. Everyone has a functional savior they trust and look to for help and deliverance.
Here are some broad categories in which you might find a functional savior:
- Escapes. This category might include: Video games, vacations, weekends, harmful and addictive substances, movies, books, sleep, hobbies, sports, etc. Barry Trammel, Sports Columnist for the Daily Oklahoman, stated this clearly when he said, “The very best thing about sports is escapism.” Anything or any person that helps someone escape reality and responsibility has become a functional savior. An escape might even be something like a divorce which allows a person to leave behind an unhappy relationship commitment. To be clear, not all of these things are necessarily bad, and they might even be enjoyed for God’s glory in the right situation, but when someone leans on them more than they trust God, as evidenced by obedience to His word, then an escape is likely functioning as a savior.
- Experts. These are people who are going to fix life’s ills and make the world better. Experts might include politicians, doctors, role models, parents, clergy, counselors, lawyers, activists, financial advisers, intellectuals, etc. Once again, there’s nothing wrong with receiving the expertise and services of someone like a doctor or counselor. But when a person is placed above God; when their expert solutions result in the Great Architect and Physician being displaced from first place or ignored altogether, then we have to consider the possibility that there is an idol acting like a savior.
- Dreams. This category is characterized by thoughts that start with an “If only…” These dream-saviors might include: a dream job, a dream house, a dream relationship, a dream family, a dream salary, a dream invention, a dream society, a dream church, retirement, etc. I don’t mean ambition is always wrong. We should have Godly ambition to see the gospel grow and advance. We should hope and act so that our families and faith families flourish. But when the “if only” becomes a reality and we can’t be thankful and we can’t rest in what God has granted, then perhaps we have a dream-savior. For example, people who struggle in this category likely have a hard time with Godly contentment. They always have to have more of what they already posses or they just have to have the newest version. If the grass is always greener somewhere else, and we can’t be content to water and fertilize where we are, then maybe we should consider whether anything will satisfy. Maybe it is worthy wondering if we still haven’t found who we are looking for – namely, Christ Jesus.
And this is the beauty of the real and ultimate Savior, Jesus Christ; only He can give to us the eternal and fulfilling life we so desperately seek for both the present life and the life to come. And when He does save us by trusting Him, He puts all of these others things in their proper place so that we can enjoy them (Psalm 128:1-4; Matt. 6:33). If we try to use them to seek ultimate enjoyment, they will let us down and rob us of what we are truly seeking.
“Almighty God, You have made us for Yourself, and our hearts are restless until they find rest in You.” Augustine of Hippo
We were created worship (Genesis 1:26-28) and so we will worship. This truth is self-evident.
Therefore, we will worship God or will worship the creature/creation. The worship of God is true worship and the worship of anything else that God has created is idolatry.
We can see this in Bible narrative from the very beginning and therefore make several propositional (truth) statments about worship and idolatry.
- In the beginning the Holy and Triune God Created (Genesis 1:1) the heavens and the earth and everything in them.
- He created the creation to display and reveal His glory and the creation was good (Genesis Ch. 1).
- He also created man as a distinct part of that creation to worship God by faith (Genesis Ch. 1 and 2) and enjoy the creation by honoring God and giving thanks (Romans 1:21).
- Therefore, when God is worshiped, mankind enjoys creation righteously.
- But when the creation and creature are worshiped, the created design is suppressed (Romans 1:18), and man worships the creation because mankind was created to worship.
- Idolatry is self-worship (Isaiah 44:9-20). Bottom line: We trust God or ourselves. Though we may assign value to another object or idea, we are ultimately valuing and trusting ourselves because we have decided what is worthy of worship. This is a paradox of sorts because it looks as if the idol is the object of our worship. But who decided it was of ultimate value when God has told us that He is the most valuable being in the creation?
- The Fall-Out: Moral Chaos (Romans 1:24-30). With each person deciding their own moral standard by which they make decisions about what is ultimately valuable, moral chaos ensues. We should not be surprised when we see the chaos. With more than 6 billion people on planet earth acting as their own god, we get a lot of moral standards instead of one.
A Idolatry Diagnostic: FAD
If we don’t carefully define worship and idolatry then we might conclude that we are not idolaters since most of us are probably not housing any little wooden or stone idols. Idolatry is making a good thing a god-thing. Idolatry is assigning ultimate value to anything that is not God. How then do we identify idols? FAD.
- Fear. What do you fear? What controls or paralyzes you because you are afraid of losing it or not having it? “One of the signs that an object is functioning as an idol is that fear becomes one of the chief characteristics of life because we are dependent on that object.” Tim Keller
- Anger. Anger can be a Godly response when exercised in a Godly way for Godly reasons. But if there is something that easily offends you, or sets you off regularly, then that thing or person is probably controlling you in an idolatrous way. People tend to get angry about things that they value, but don’t get angry about what they don’t value. Is that thing you get angry about more valuable than God says it is?
- Dear. What do we spend the most time and money on? What is it that we can’t live without? Football, clothes, a big home, a new car, hunting, reputation, food, control, or a pet? Any object or idea/dream? If we hold anything more dear than God and His glory, then it is probably an idol. For instance, Americans spent billions of dollars last year on Christmas presents for their cats. We spent over $40 billion on our pets – more than movies, video games and music combined.
- Acknowledge that you, like the rest of us, are an idolater and then turn to Christ by grace through faith. Repent and believe in Christ alone. Trust God and not yourself.
- If you are a Christian who has an idol, start by praising God (Romans 1:25c). Don’t just admit the problem, do the right thing immediately. Value God with your thoughts and actions.
- Guard yourself from going back to an idol with regular self-examination. Use the FAD diagnostic and ask others to speak into your life. We are always in danger of going back to the very thing Jesus saved us from. Trust in Jesus and He will put everything in its proper place.