Sunday, August 5, 2018

The problem of idols. . .

It is not that idols have sway over man but man has the power to make anything an idol -- including himself.  “We know that an idol is nothing in the world and that there is no God except one,” according to St. Paul writing to the Corinthians (1 Cor. 8:4). In other words, idols do not have life or power or even existence unless and until man gives the idol life, power, and existence.  If you pick up a Buddha statue at a yard sale, there is nothing in that clay pot that has power.  But once you set up the statue as a power and grant to it the attention of your mind and the devotion of your heart, it becomes an idol.

Once I was young enough to think that these things had power in and of themselves.  All sorts of things.  I feared even touching them as if they had some sort of power in and of themselves.  But I learned that these things, mostly inanimate objects, do not have power in and of themselves but only the power that we grant to them.  That is the danger.  Not that we will be swallowed up whole by the fierce powers of false gods and drawn under their sway but that we will grant to these false gods the attention, devotion, and faith that does give them power over us.  "What does it mean to have a god?” asks Luther.  “A god means that from which we are to expect all good and to which we are to take refuge in all distress.”

The traditional idols of the past have given way to new and more dangerous idols.  Far from being inanimate objects, these idols live and breath.  We have met the enemy and the enemy is us.  We are the idols of this age.  Our wants and desires, our preferences and choices, our happiness and an escape from boredom have become the new idols that live and breathe within us.  They have not done anything to win us over but we have granted to them -- be they objects or ideas or feelings -- the power to consume us and distract us so that we forget who we are and whose we are.

They are dangerous because they are not confined to places but we carry them around with us.  We do not fight them in grand battles of scale but in small skirmishes of decisions and choices born not of reason or values but of simple will and desire.  The great temple to Satan is not some building but the heart protesting against conscience and insisting that the choice we are inclined to make is at worst neutral.  So the Scriptures are clear that money is not the root of evil but its love unrestrained by anything and captive to whim.  But fill in the blank and replace money with a thousand other things that would not necessarily be wrongs in and of themselves but placed center stage in our hearts and minds they are bare and unrestrained evil.

In our world, people seem blind to the power of things and ideas, of wants and desires, to consume us and become idols of great power and sway.  A woman's desire to control her body becomes the idol that gives birth to murder.  The search for the pursuit of desire without guilt becomes the acceptance of and the blessing of same sex marriage and all kinds of other wants.  The focus on a life well lived becomes the justification for euthanasia or assisted suicide.  The fear of committing to another without some sort of assurance turns into cohabitation as common and normal and even understandable as marriage.  The want for happiness makes a husband and wife place their roles as father and mother second to themselves and leaves the children wounded in the wake.

Idols have no power over us we do not grant to them and that is the problem.  We have granted the present more of our attention than the past or the future.  We have granted to desire the privilege of determining what is good and right.  We have elevated being true to desire as much more noble than self-control, self-denial, or restraint.  We are not in danger of too many idols but one which is allowed to define who we are and how we live -- the right to be happy!  Satan does not much care whether we are happy or miserable so long as we hear more loudly the voice of our desires and give into it rather than listen to the voice of God and trust it.

Some fear the idolatry of altars and ceremonies, liturgies and rituals, vestments and offices. . . I fear the idolatry of hearts set free from shame to pursue desire and call it all good.


Ted Gullixson (ELS) said...

Are not the mega-churches and other progressive churches catering to that very idol of self, when they make the service about "your feelings" instead of God's Word?

Anonymous said...

Evangelical and Calvinist theology are all Law-based: "What wrong did I do and what steps can I take to make my situation right before God?" Such theology takes the focus away from what Jesus does for us and instead caters to the idol of self. These churches cannot easily rid themselves of contemporary worship, as the lyrics of CoWo songs are a natural extension of the theology.

By contrast, contemporary worship songs, no matter how well they are performed, always feel out of place in a Lutheran setting. A law/gospel sermon followed by an all-law CoWo praise song just doesn't feel right. Sadly, no one seems to care about the "all about me" and "You are an awesome Creator so I choose to follow You" lyrics.

David Gray said...

I wish people who don't know Calvinist theology would stop trying to characterize Calvinist theology. It makes us look ignorant.

Anonymous said...

The typical mega-church with contemporary worship begins with about
15 minutes of hymns/praise songs. This is followed by prayers and the
offering. Then there is an expository sermon which lasts 35 to 40