Thursday, May 6, 2010

Idolatry Is Easy

Idolatry is easy. Humans turn created things (or those things which are not God) into objects of worship quite naturally. We devote our lives to success, wealth, power, or even our own kids rather than to the God who created us and sent his son to die for us. We place pastors, politicians, athletes and celebrities on pedestals of undo height and glory. We make gods of mere mortals.

In the Bible, idolatry is the sin that infuriates God the most, and is the one by which he is most confounded. Isaiah expresses God’s consternation over idolatry this way:

[Wood] is man's fuel for burning;

       some of it he takes and warms himself,

       he kindles a fire and bakes bread.

       But he also fashions a god and worships it;

       he makes an idol and bows down to it.
Half of the wood he burns in the fire;

       over it he prepares his meal,

       he roasts his meat and eats his fill.

       He also warms himself and says,

       "Ah! I am warm; I see the fire."
From the rest he makes a god, his idol;

       he bows down to it and worships.

       He prays to it and says,

       "Save me; you are my god."
They know nothing, they understand nothing;

       their eyes are plastered over so they cannot see,

       and their minds closed so they cannot understand.
No one stops to think, 

       no one has the knowledge or understanding to say,

       "Half of it I used for fuel;

       I even baked bread over its coals,

       I roasted meat and I ate.

       Shall I make a detestable thing from what is left?

       Shall I bow down to a block of wood?"

Nothing makes less sense to God than idolatry, and yet this is the sin his people committed again and again. As early on as the Exodus, the Israelites fashioned a golden calf (perhaps to resemble a god they had worshipped while in Egypt) and bowed down to it. When they entered the promised land they added the idols of the Canaanites—Baal, Asherah, Molech—to their own worship. Idolatry (which God understood as adultery against himself) was the reason for the demise of Israel. It was because of their idolatry that the Northern Kingdom was destroyed and the Southern Kingdom sent into exile.

In the New Testament, Paul laments the idolatry he finds rampant among all the peoples of the earth. He writes in Romans:

For since the creation of the world God's invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse.
For although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened. Although they claimed to be wise, they became fools and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images made to look like mortal man and birds and animals and reptiles.
Therefore God gave them over in the sinful desires of their hearts to sexual impurity for the degrading of their bodies with one another. They exchanged the truth of God for a lie, and worshiped and served created things rather than the Creator—who is forever praised. Amen.

Idolatry is a problem for all mankind. It’s in our fallen nature to worship that which is not God. Even today there is unfettered idolatry running loose among churchgoers. We worship the gods of success and power just like the ancients, though perhaps more insidiously because we wrap it up in our Christianity. We turn our pastors and politicians into gods and place upon them all the expectations and demands of deity. Our idolatry grieves God no less today than it did when the stories of the Bible were being lived in the dust and grass of Palestine. The saddest irony, of course, is that when God did become a man—the one man worthy of worship—we rejected and killed him.

I urge you to examine your own heart to discern who and what has your central devotion rather than God. Who sits upon the throne of your soul? There is only one who is worthy to sit on that great seat—he who created you and knows you from first to last. Idolatry is easy. True worship of the true God is hard. Do the hard stuff.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Thank you for this call to obedience and worship. Each Sunday morning, temptations abound to "skip church," and yet as we glorify God together, we're "blessed because we came" (to quote Mike Fay & Tom Coomes's song). Doing the "hard stuff" is worth it far more than words can describe!
-- Stanley