A trip to India will cause you to reassess things in your life. The spiritual, cultural, and literal climate are all very difficult for anyone to become acclimated. But undoubtedly, the most unexpected thing about the culture is the blatant and literal idolatry which is a part of everyday life. People actually purchase stone idols and pray to them. They set up shrines to their billions of gods. This grieved me to the core of my spirit to see this kind of empty idolatry; the fruit of it is evident in the lives of most of the 1.3 billion people of India.
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.
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 often than I realize.
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 a 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 chasing after them, and to treasure him more than all of them. And only a perfect being is worthy of these things — in the hands of depraved man, they can go horribly wrong.
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.
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.
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.
Surely God in his grace has given strengths to each of us, but oftentimes we boast in our ability as though we were the source of it and not the steward of it. 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 about what other people think of us. 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.
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.
May this be the prayer of every person who seeks to follow the Lamb: “God save me, help me recognize these idols in my life, and turn me away from them and back to you. Open my eyes to your worthiness and help me live to honor you.”