17 July, 2008

Idols in our Homes

I've been worried for a while about people calling too many things idols. It's all well and good to be against people watching too much TV, but is it really an idol? Or is it just an inferior amusement, sometimes used badly?

I've been reading in Isaiah, and God is clearly annoyed when His people turn to idols. There's a really great scene in which Isaiah describes a dude who's obviously pretty handy with wood tools. Our new buddy grabs a good-looking hunk of wood, and turns it into a table and chairs, then maybe a plate or two, finally takes the chips and scraps and lights a fire to cook his dinner. That last left-over piece, though, he carves into an idol to whom he can "say grace" for his meal. It's almost funny how God sees no difference between the activity of making dinner and a making convenient god.

That's an idol.

Faith, hope, and love, Paul says, are the three things that matter, and those are the three things the idolator poured into that last piece of wood.

Faith is a logical, conscious decision to live as if a god's promise will be kept based upon prior knowledge of his power.

Hope is the ability to hang on now because you know god will make enduring the present worthwhile.

Love is a commitment to think, feel and act in the best interests of your god.

I see all three of those things in the actions of Isaiah's unhappy wood-worker. He reckons that his god has given him today's food, so he exercises faith that his god will do it again. His hopes for the future are truly based on the way his god will make that future pleasant. And he has invested his time and passion into pleasing that god with his carved image and tiny offerings to it.

I don't see any of that in America's relationship with the television. We don't think the television brought us any good thing, so we don't rely on it to bring us anything in the future. We don't hope for a better future because of the television's oversight in our lives. Maybe we invest in that box, but all our offerings are to ourselves.

And therein lies the key, I believe.

Our idol cannot be seen, because we no longer believe in the invisible. We don't have to incarnate it any more. We look at history, and find we've gotten our own meals for our own selves, so that's where we put our faith. We hope for our future, because we have laid plans for it and because science keeps making it better every day. And we pour our love out to stir up more passion from within.

In other words, we've not moved a lick from Paul's day. We've made a god of our bellies, trusting our lusts to bring us every good thing and our strength to keep us against the day of trouble.

Don't rail against the television. It's just a little offering we make to our lusts. Our cars and our wide screens and our nest eggs, our jobs and our houses and our spouses, our movies and our shows and our nightlife; they are the little offerings we give to appease our god, the little sacrifices we make to ourselves. We sculpt our abs, sleep at our custom sleep number, and dine in every luxury we can afford in order to strengthen and prepare our god to conquer for us. When our body is strong and our minds are tuned and our attitudes are adjusted, we can make the best of all possible worlds for ourselves.

When the Living God sees us in front of a TV, He doesn't trip out. I'm sure He knows a better way for us to spend our time, a way to spend time together, but He's got big shoulders and He can bear for us to overdo some entertainment. Through Isaiah God tells us it's when He finds us wrapped up in the arms of another that He is angered. It's not Ba'al with whom we whore, though, it's our better selves.

We strive to have faith in ourselves. We hope to grow better and wiser. We practice loving ourselves. We've refined idolatry in much the same way we've distilled the cocoa bean into crack. Ba'al was harmless compared to our idolatry.

Do you want to send a message to America?

Trust God.


Beyond Words said...


Missy said...

Kev, I have been thinking much the same lately. I have a problem with gluttony. Not just food - but comfort - what I want when I want it. And I am sure I am the only one. {c;

I've been praying for the wisdom to see this when it happens and be open to what God would rather have me do. I know God put many things in this world for my pleasure, so I know I can't label anything but my own intentions as evil.

I have fought with other Christians, time and time again, when they counsel me that food and comfort have become my idols. I say no, it is myself that I idolize when I cannot bear to deny that idol what it wishes.

They ask me how I can hate myself like that - made in the image of God and all.


Did they not just hear me say I fear I may love MYSELF more than I love God?

Sorry, I guess you struck a nerve. Great post!

Milly said...

Funny this week I’ve had very little focus on me time. I don’t miss it a bit. Then again I haven’t had a moment (Except for car time to and fro work) to myself. I wonder how I’ll feel when I get that moment, I think I’ll just sit quietly and wonder if I shouldn’t be checking on someone.

I think our idols are also keeping us from Him by distracting our minds.

Another Voice said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Missy said...

Thanks, Milly. :)

codepoke said...

Thanks to everyone for keeping checking in, and for liking what you see. It's comforting to think some people can see the same thing.

Missy, you bring up such a hard problem. They talk about how easy it is to fall off the path to the left or the right, but you're dancing on the head of a pin! I'm sure the right answer will feel easy to you once you find it, but I'm not sure what it is.

If I were to define gluttony, it would be finding purpose in increasing your appetites for the thrill of trying to fill them again after each growth. So, it's not enjoying ice cream, but finding a way to increase your capacity for enjoying ice cream and then filling it again. Deciding there's only one perfect ideal of ice cream, and traveling past 15 fun places to give your refined appetite the perfect best maybe.

But at the same time, enjoying the world's best ice cream is a God-given joy.

I wish you grace in finding His peace in all He's showing you. :-)

vanessa said...


Im a little unclear as to why your unhappy woodworker is an idolator, or why even he is unhappy.

So here is a guy who had a skill, and some materials and some food. He did his thing with his materials and skill so he could enjoy his food. Being a normal human unit, he recognized that there is "something out there beyond us" so he wanted to acknowledge it so he made a physical thing that represented it to him. Now he can say "thanks".

Why is that idolatry? Human units such as we are, are pretty much designed to seek a higher force. He did. AND he desired to thank it. Now, because it wasnt YOUR (or Isaiah's) definition of a higher force, why is it wrong?

Please dont give me the standard christian answer of "because we are right and they are wrong"

BTW I am so totally in agreement that our modern society ignores the calling of a higher force and considers self pleasure and gratification to be the thing to which we give the attention due the "force"


codepoke said...

Hello Vanessa, and welcome. It's fun to reconnect after all these years.

Of course you are correct about the woodworker being happy. That's a mistatement on my part. I should have said, "unfortunate."

> Human units such as we are, are pretty much designed to seek a higher force.

Yep. Eternity is hidden in our hearts, and tantalizes us (Ecc 3:11). We sense the greatness of an immense something far beyond us, and feel as a loss the fact we cannot comprehend it. Everyone feels it, but only some of us realize the importance of that feeling. Our unfortunate woodworker was one of those who realized the importance.

> Now, because it wasnt YOUR (or Isaiah's) definition of a higher force, why is it wrong?

You ask this, AND you made my favorite argument off-limits? :-P

Isaiah founds his whole argument on the Lord's declaration of having delivered Israel from Egypt by His own hand.

Isaiah 48:3-6
I foretold the former things long ago,
my mouth announced them and I made them known;
then suddenly I acted, and they came to pass.
For I knew how stubborn you were;
the sinews of your neck were iron,
your forehead was bronze.
Therefore I told you these things long ago;
before they happened I announced them to you
so that you could not say,
'My images brought them about;
my wooden image and metal god ordained them.'

You have heard these things; look at them all.
Will you not admit them?
"From now on I will tell you of new things,
of hidden things unknown to you.

Isaiah presents a simple if/then. If God delivered His people from Egypt, and from so many other things, Then to give honor to anything else is a direct offense against Him.

In 2008 the argument is not about the parting of the Red Sea, but about the voluntary suffering of God, His willing death. It's the same simple proposition. If Christ died and rose again, Then everyone who despises His compassion stands in a very bad place.

As often as I have spun the idea around in my head that maybe it's all a fantasy, or maybe it's just one Western road to the top of the mountain; just so often I have been forced to evaluate the history of the cross. Every probability is that Jesus was everything the gospels describe Him to be. And if He is, then the Egypt story is true. Then our woodworker is happily turning away from a very real, very passionate, very aware person to a chunk of wood he's whittled on a little while.

And that's unfortunate.