Category Archives: Idolatry and Faux Saviors
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 even admit there is something wrong with them.
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. These could be a number of things including: Video games, vacations, weekends, drugs and alcohol, movies, books, sleep, hobbies, sports, etc. Barry Trammel, Sports Columnist for the Daily Oklahoman, affirmed this when he said, “The very best thing about sports is escapism.” Anything or person that helps a person escape reality and responsibility has become a functional savior. An escape might even be something like a divorce which allows the person to leave behind an unhappy relationship commitment. Again, not all of these things are bad and we might even say they can be good, but when we lean on them more than we trust God and live according to His covenant instruction, we know we have an idol problem.
- Experts. These are people who are going to fix things for us. These are people we trust to make life better. They include politicians, doctors, role models, parents, clergy, counselors, lawyers, financial advisers, the opposite sex, etc. Once again, there’s nothing intrinsically wrong with any of these people and their roles, but when we place them above God; when we seek them and consult with them more than we do the Great Architect and Physician, then we know we have a functional savior.
- Dreams. This category is characterized by thoughts that start with an “If only…” If only this happened, or I had this thing, or some person did this one act for me. These functional savior dreams might include: a dream job, a dream house, a dream relationship, a dream family, a dream salary, a dream invention, a dream society, etc. These kinds of unrealized ideals serve as saviors because they sustain us for at least a while, but even when the “if only” becomes a reality, it’s not enough and a new dream is coveted. People who struggle in this category have a hard time with Godly contentment toward the treasures of this earth.
And this is the beauty of the real and ultimate Savior, Jesus Christ; He can presently and will forever save us. 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 (Matt. 6:33) and not be disappointed when we are forced to leave them behind as a part of this broken world. 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.