Little children, keep yourselves from idols. Amen. (1 John 5:21)
A trip to India will cause you to reassess things in your life. On my recent trip, it was very difficult to acclimate to the spiritual, cultural and literal climate. But undoubtedly the most unexpected aspect about the culture is that blatant, daily and literal idolatry that is a normal part of every day life. People actually purchase stone idols and pray to them. They set up shrines to their billions of gods. It was grievous to the core of my spirit to see this kind of empty idolatry, and the fruit of it in the lives of most of the 1.3 billion people who live there.
But, make no mistake about it; we in the United States have just as big a problem with idolatry as Hindus do. Their idols are physical, and obvious; ours are subtle and masked.
Recently I read through the book of Ezekiel in the Message translation, which refers to the idols of Israel as “no-god idols”. This is a fitting description because what makes our “idols” idols is precisely the fact they are not God. I define an idol as anything I look to for pleasure, security, provision, significance or identity that is other than the living God himself. This could be a relationship, a job, life expectations, my own strengths and abilities or a host of other things. None of these things are inherently evil in and of themselves. It is my own heart, pulling away from the True Vine – the True and Living God – that begins to look to them inordinately, not as blessings from the Father of Lights (from whom comes every good and perfect gift) but as sources in themselves. This is idolatry. And I do it more than I realize.
These things are neither true nor living, and they can, without a Spirit-informed mind, distract me from the true source of life. In Revelation 5:11-12 we are privileged to see a glimpse of worship in heaven. There, the angels sing a song of the worthiness of the Lamb.
And I beheld, and I heard the voice of many angels round about the throne and the beasts and the elders: and the number of them was ten thousand times ten thousand, and thousands of thousands; Saying with a loud voice, Worthy is the Lamb that was slain to receive power, and riches, and wisdom, and strength, and honor, and glory, and blessing.
This is curious song, for doesn’t the Lamb already possess all power, own all riches, walk in all wisdom, stand in the place of ultimate strength? Doesn’t he presently sit in the seat of the highest authority, honor, glory and blessing? Yes, he already has all of these commodities in infinite measure. Then why does he need more?
Here is the answer to the riddle: The Lamb does not need more of these things, but his worth is so great as to cause all who truly see him to let go of these things, to stop our search for them and to treasure him more than all of them. Only a perfect being is worthy of these things – in the hands of depraved man, they can go horribly wrong.
Those things listed here are what human beings tend to idolize most: money, power and control, honor from other men. But my calling is much higher than these things. I was made for more than this. I can never be truly satisfied with these petty things, and I cannot help but be satisfied in him. History bears out an insatiable appetite for power and control. If I have power, I can force my agenda on you and control you. In fallen hearts like ours, power corrupts – only the Lamb is worthy of power.
Imagine the evil has been wrought on this earth by the quest for riches. I long for more – more than I need; more than you. I somehow feel that I don’t have to fear if I have wealth, for to the carnal man, wealth is security. But covetousness is idolatry. What my soul really needs is to trust the One who owns the earth and everything in it. In fallen hearts like ours, riches are false security – only the Lamb is worthy of riches.
But what could be wrong with wisdom? It is the principle thing and we are told to seek it diligently until we find it. True, wisdom from above is pure and peaceable and profitable, but wisdom from below is earthly, sensual and demonic. We tend to make this bankrupt, earthly wisdom an idol and then we pride ourselves with coming up with it. In fallen hearts like ours, wisdom is utter folly – only the Lamb is worthy of wisdom.
Why do we constantly boast in our strengths, abilities and might? Surely God in his grace has given strengths to each of us, but what do we possess that was not given to us. We boast in our ability as though we were the source of it and not the steward of it. Yet, our human strength is finite and failing. In fallen hearts like ours strength is self-focused and boastful – only the Lamb is worthy of strength.
All of us are, for all of our lives, crippled by the quest of honor (respect), glory (good opinion and praise) and blessing (to be well spoken of). We all care way too much for what other people think of us. It is the greatest paralyzing and debilitating factor in our lives. It controls us and sucks time, energy and money out of us. It causes great soul-strain and drives us to works of performance and keeps us from the rest of God. In fallen hearts like ours, good opinion and respect can be crippling idols – only the Lamb is worthy of honor and glory and blessing.
All of us have these seven qualities in some degree, and the Lamb is worthy of whatever power we have, whatever riches we are given. Our wisdom is for him, as is our strength. The respect and praise and good opinion that we are given are ultimately given to us for the purpose of bringing him glory.
May this be the prayer of every person who seeks to follow the Lamb: “God save me, help me recognize these no-god idols in my life, and turn me away from them and back to you. Open my eyes to your worthiness and help me live consistent with your value.”