May 3, 2013

The Folly of Idolatry

Reformer John Calvin said, “The human heart is a factory of idols.” His pointed proclamation is regretfully and disgracefully true. I may not carve them out of tree branches or fashion them from silver and gold, but nevertheless, idols keep popping up in my mind.
Fear not, nor be afraid; have I not told you from of old and declared it? And you are my witnesses! Is there a God besides me? There is no Rock; I know not any. All who fashion idols are nothing, and the things they delight in do not profit. Their witnesses neither see nor know, that they may be put to shame. Who fashions a god or casts an idol that is profitable for nothing? (Isaiah 44:8–10)

Author John Piper says that the greatest hindrance to our experience of knowing and delighting in God is “that we are willing to settle for such pitiful pleasures . . .” and when we do that, “. . . the majesty of God has dried up like a forgotten peach at the back of the refrigerator.”

When I need something to sustain me, do I head for that dried up peach? When I need something to make me happy, do I forget God? What pitiful pleasures do I settle for instead?

Jesus knew the secret of fulfillment. Once when He was tired and thirsty He stopped at a well and asked a woman to give Him a drink. Eventually, He revealed Himself to her as the Messiah she hoped for. When the disciples arrived, they urged Jesus to eat something, but He told them, “I have food to eat of which you do not know.”

They were confused. They did not understand that doing the will of God could give far more satisfaction than whatever they thought would do it.
These thoughts lead me to question the place of God in my life. The first of the Ten Commandments reads, “You shall have not other gods before me.” Has God become no more than a peach pit?

Who is my God? The second commandment forbids the making of idols or “graven images.” Is idolatry the worship of a carved idol with bulging eyes and a grotesque tongue sticking out of its open mouth? Or worse, a peach pit? What do I settle for instead of God?

How about greatly admired or influential persons? Do I have a matinee idol, a god of the silver screen? Do I idolize a great writer, the god of the publishing business? While not called deities in the usual sense of the word, some do admire these gods to the point of awe, even worship.

A god could be “anything I turn to for peace, strength, or help when in need.” Is my god money? Or other gods in North American culture — cars, sex, food, homes, luxury items, or anything money can buy?

Work can be a god too. This god is the driving force in many a life, taking a central place in schedules and thoughts, leaving little or no space to be occupied with the business of the true God.

How can I obey that first Commandment? Do I quit my work, go to church every day? Do I give away all my possessions and enter a cloistered monastery so nothing distracts me from worship? Do I put all people in a “lower than a worm” category and never admire anyone? Of course, I could donate all to the poor, live in a mud hut, disdain all human interaction, go to my own little church every day, and still break the first commandment in my heart!

So how do I delight in God? One man said, “Just because I love my wife with all my heart does not mean I hate everyone else.” Delighting in God is matter of priority.

It is also a matter of choice. Give God first place when options and decisions arise. He is number One. Treat Him accordingly. Having no idols does not mean that I stop living, but that I live for Him.

Piper also says God calls us to come to Him “with empty hands . . . acknowledging that He alone can satisfy the heart’s longing to be happy.”
He is right. The only way to discover all God can do is by putting aside idols and pitiful pleasures. Stop relying on myself, or my own inventions. Rely only on Him. Let God be God. 

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