Lessons in Growth Meditations: 6. Images and Idols
Rev 9:20 they did not stop worshiping demons, and idols of gold, silver, bronze, stone and wood–idols that cannot see or hear or walk
Idols? We are, in this Part, considering the things from our past life that need putting to death, things that can so easily be transported into our new Christian lives if we are not careful, and if we do, they stunt growth. Now I am sure that most of us only associate idols with eastern countries or Old Testament pagan countries. Unfortunately that description often applied to Israel, despite the fat that they had had warning after warning not to have anything to do with the religions of other people.
Definitions: Now if you look up the definition of ‘idol’ you find, ‘an image or representation of a god used as an object of worship,’ but then there is a secondary definition: ‘a person or thing that is greatly admired, loved or revered’. I would also add, ‘any substitute for God that we rely upon’. The simple truth is that so often we look to other people, things or systems to give us encouragement, direction or help. Look in any good bookstore and there are shelves upon shelves of self-help books. I confess to feeling horrified a couple of years ago when the ‘Mindfulness’ fad appeared and was even being heralded by some Christian ‘celebrities’. Many of these things in themselves are quite harmless and may even, in a small measure help, but the bigger challenge is that when you and I came to Christ, he and he alone was to be our Saviour and Lord, our resource, our provider.
Modern Society: There is an emptiness in much modern life in the West that arises in societies that have abandoned God. Just recently I have again seen in the media, warnings and concerns about the over-use of social media in whatever form it is and words like addiction and teenage depression are bandied around. What appears to be a relationship-building technology, turns out to be a fear inducing and relational-inhibiting technology, especially among the younger generations. The older generation is increasing causing concern as there is a recognition that loneliness is the norm for many. Our societies have many problems. But what has this got to do with idols?
There are in our modern western societies, four groups of people, I suggest. There are i) Christians who rely on the Lord, ii) other religious groups who rely upon their particular culture as much as their God i.e. religion as a substitute, iii) those who look to people, things, experiences, culture, education, work achievement, maybe even politics, and technology, to provide meaning and purpose and even a sense of fulfilment in life, and iv) those who have none of these things and who live in the twilight, immersed in loneliness and on the edge of depression, and for whom drugs or suicide are contemplated. Now I realise that this is a somewhat damning critique of modern society but I suggest it is fairly realistic. The last group is the smallest but it by no mean small. The third group in our Western societies are clearly the largest groups and all the things I have listed there are in reality their ‘gods’, the things they rely upon, their substitutes for God. The second group, we might suggest, are also using God-substitutes (man-made religion and culture).
But isn’t that fairly obvious, so why should we be considering this in this Part that looks at things which should have died when we came to Christ? It can be boiled down to who or what do we put our trust in? I will consider this more fully in the next study when we consider anxiety but so much of modern life is about covering up the emptiness and the anxiety that exists in the absence of God. But surely that is not us, you say? I would like to think that was so, but when I watch and listen to many modern Christians I wonder.
Shallow Lives that need Props? Now I should add that most of those things I listed above – for example, people, things, experiences, culture, education, work achievement, maybe even politics, and technology – are not bad or wrong in themselves, and many of us who are Christians encounter or use these things or are involved with them, and that is not wrong. Where it falls apart is if our relationship with the Lord is shallow, we may be propping up our lives with all these other things. If our non-Christian neighbours look at us, what do they see?
The Example of Israel: Moses, on the plains of Moab, before he left Israel taught them: “See, I have taught you decrees and laws as the LORD my God commanded me, so that you may follow them in the land you are entering to take possession of it. Observe them carefully, for this will show your wisdom and understanding to the nations, who will hear about all these decrees and say, “Surely this great nation is a wise and understanding people.” What other nation is so great as to have their gods near them the way the LORD our God is near us whenever we pray to him?” (Deut 4:5-7) The way that Israel lived, with the Lord, was to be a testimony to the rest of the world – this is how life is to work! This is how God has designed it. This is how it should also be for us today.
The Modern Church? I have asked this sort of question before but it worth repeating, when the world looks at the Church – and maybe your local church in particular – what do they see? Do they see people who are full of peace and harmony, a people who are fulfilled in life without the materialistic props of the modern age (but who use them as well for pleasure in addition), people where families are without strife, families where divorce is absent, young people not on drugs or drink because they are full of the Spirit? Do they find people who are loving, kind, caring and compassionate? Do they go into homes where the technology is only in the background but the foreground is filled with love and laughter, testimony and witness to the goodness of the Lord? Do they find a people who pray for one another and offer to pray over them when they share their ailments and stresses? Do they find testimonies of deliverance and healings? But more than anything in this present context, do they find a people who can use modern technology and culture only as an add-on, but not the necessity for happiness and joy?
And Us? Before we came to Christ, we relied on things, on people, celebrities, self-help techniques. Coming to Christ, have we found that he is the source of provision for our peace, our source of fulfillment, purpose and meaning? We should have. Please, be honest, ask for revelation if necessary, How much do we, the modern people of God trust in these things to compensate for shallow spiritual lives? To the church in Laodicea Jesus said, “You say, `I am rich; I have acquired wealth and do not need a thing.’ But you do not realize that you are wretched, pitiful, poor, blind and naked.” (Rev 3:17) I am not saying that this is how it is; I leave that to you to consider, but is there even an element of truth in that description that fits so much of life in the modern church in the West? This is about salvation versus substitutes. As advertising has sometimes said, accept no substitutes!