Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Sleeping with Idols

SCRIPTURE: Jeremiah 50:38
Written by: Conrade Yap
Date: 25 Jan 2012

"A drought on her waters! They will dry up. For it is a land of idols, idols that will go mad with terror." (Jer 50:38)
MAIN POINT: Idols are everywhere. The worst state of idolatry is to sleep with idols without even being aware of it. Beware of the three dangerous forms of idolatry.

Idolatry. What is idolatry? The great reformer, John Calvin, has this to say:
"Man's mind is like a store of idolatry and superstition; so much so that if a man believes his own mind it is certain that he will forsake God and forge some idol in his own brain." (John Calvin)
A) An Unnatural Incline

The human tendency is to lean toward idolatry. This is why God is so insistent about Israel removing idols from their land. Idols have no respect of nationality. It does not care about ethnicity or language. Idols fuse themselves to human flesh and feelings, and turn the possessor into the possessed. Sometimes, I feel that the media has completely transformed the word 'idol' from danger to desired. Instead of sounding out the alarm on the threat of idolatry in the human heart, the world has waxed the image of idols and made them more sought after. Look at American Idol. We have contestants so focused on winning the ticket to Hollywood that they cry and jump for joy when selected, or pour out scorn and profanities when not selected. Our modern culture has turned idols into deceitful prizes to capture our hearts' attention.

Problem: We tend to seek after these things so uncritically, that we sleep over thoughts of wanting it.

B) An Ancient Curse

If the Creator understands how humans naturally behave, should we not listen more intently, and obey God more fervently? Calvin perceptively points out that idolatry begins in the heart. In the human heart, there is only room from one person. If it is not God, then it is an idol.

The verse from Jeremiah is a reminder to us too, that although we do not live in an ideal world, we live in a world furnished with idols. The passage is a hard hitting prophecy against Babylon during the times of King Nebuchadnezzar. The Babylonians (or Chaldeans) are known to be harsh rulers over the exiled people of Israel. In a way, this prophecy is laced with a triple purpose. It warns the Babylonians not to be proud and arrogant about their riches and power. It encourages the Israelites that God is mightier than Babylon. It reminds all the nations that God is in control, and idolatry will cause the downfall of anyone.

Problem: We live in a world of idols but often fail to see them as idols.

C) No Lack of Idols

In our modern world, there is no lack of idols. Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove, suggests that there are three 'mid-day demons' that we all need to be wary of, namely; ambition, boredom, and vainglory. All of these are actually distractions from a true seeking of God. Ambition makes us focused on our primary targets of the world. Boredom makes us easily dissatisfied. Vainglory is an attitude of self-seeking that puts oneself more important than others, even God.

Problem: In vainglory, we substitute holy ambition for God with an unholy pursuit of idols.

D) Idol #1 Ambition

We are used to having fresh water from our taps. Sometimes, we take the convenience for granted. Water is a gift from God. The distribution of the water is a service we have also taken for granted. In those days, when the water dries up, it creates havoc in the daily life of ancient Babylon. Worse, the dried up river means that enemies can march along the river and attack Babylon. With the river the source of life, it is easy for the enemy to strike at the hearts of Babylonian homes.

The same applies for ambition. When we take things for granted, we are not easily satisfied. When our rivers of contentment dries up, the enemies of temptation will march up our dried rivers, offering all kinds of promises that look good on the outside, but fatal on the inside. Wilson-Hartgrove calls ambition as a 'whisper.' Human beings tend to pay more attention to seductive whispers of the world than the instructive commands of God. Wilson-Hartgrove writes:
"We are so easily unimpressed by the ordinary, longing for the feeling of excitement that comes with a new task to take up, new people to engage, new challenges to face." (114)
Isn't that true? Some of us change our cellphones so much that every new flashy phone makes us despise our prized phone obtained a few months ago. Some of us think that only the latest and the greatest makes us cool. This is not a problem of technology. It is a problem with the human heart that is not easily satisfied.

E) Idol #2: Boredom

Boredom is very much the state of the mind. While it may not be a directly categorized form of idolatry, it leads one rapidly toward idols. Even the monks who are supposed to be 'spiritually sensitive' are guilty of boredom. One story speaks of a monk opening the door of the monastery. On seeing a familiar face, the monk shakes his head and says: "Oh. It's you again." Wilson-Hartgrove warns us about the effects of boredom that leads to idolatry.

"Boredom tempts us to give up on the people God has given us. But simply walking away from our commitments usually requires too much initiative when we are weighed down by the heaviness of life. . . . When spiritual boredom sets in, we fight over the smallest things, unable to care for the other person whose will is bumping up against our own." (119)

PROBLEM: When boredom steps in, we find it more difficult to love our neighbours. We turn the command to love our neighbours into a demand for making our neighbours love us instead.

F) Idol #3: Vanglory

The third 'idolatry' that Wilson-Hartgrove points to is 'vainglory.' He writes:
".. vainglory is the evil thought that suggests that we should care only about our own success." (Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove, The Wisdom of Stability: Rooting Faith in a Mobile Culture, Brewster, MA: Paraclete Press, 2010, 122)
The dangerous thing is that many people sleep with one or more of these idols without really realizing it. Tullian Tchividjian, the grandson of Billy Graham, describes this scenario in terms of the formula for Christianity.

"Jesus + Nothing = Everything."

Instead, many Christians add something to Jesus in order to mean everything.
  • Ambitious researcher formula: "Jesus + New Discovery = Everything."
  • Bored believer formula: "Jesus + cool-stuff = Everything."
  • Money-Minded formula: "Jesus+More-Money = Everything."
  • Vanglory Formula: "Jesus + Glory+Fame = Everything."
  • General Idolatry Formula: "Jesus + anything = Everything."
G) Summary

No! Let there be no idols in our hearts. Let them in, and it will be very difficult to flush them out. My readers, is ambition your idol? Is boredom leading you to other seemingly more attractive idols? Is vanglory your idol? Is discontentment your idol?
  • When you are ambitious, think: "What is Jesus telling you about your ambition?"
  • When you are bored, ask yourself: "Is Jesus not enough for my happiness?"
  • When you are tempted toward vainglory, ask: "Is the glory seeking for self or for Jesus?"
Do not sleep with idols. You have been warned.

Thought: The first step to turning away from idols is to unmask them.


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  1. In the past, we have TV & magazines to bombard our mind with popular culture. Nowadays, the internet provides so much information to us that one must read selectively. Youtube and several internet sites upload TV dramas and programmes faster than the TV can broadcast. Most people do not even watch TV nowadays. In addition, bloggers of all kinds of interest are gaining so much popularity that retailers are now using them to promote their products by providing these bloggers with free products to try. If you are an avid reader of their blogs, you will tend to be influence and end up buying one or two of the products strongly recommended. How does one tell if the blogger is genuine with their comments or wax lyrical of it just because they were given it free? Some self-help books teaches one how to gain success and realise your ambitions through different methods. It can be tough learning how to filter the books we read in case we adopt some false ideas. All these could lead to some kind of addictions; unless one can adopt a lifestyle by unplugging, it will be difficult to not succumbed to idolatry.

  2. Dear Anonymous (Jan 25, 2012 07:43 PM),
    The Internet is breeding a whole new culture. Let me point out 2 dangers.

    Firstly, it is true that people can be influenced by the Internet. It is even more true that people are using the Internet to find out information to support their own ideas in the first place.

    Secondly, it is not the external that influences the internal. It is the weakness and the lack of discernment that unwittingly exposes oneself to the Internet's 'can of worms.'

    Thanks for commenting.