Sunday, September 18, 2005

The Deeper Darkness of Idolatry

In Ingmar Bergman's film, The Seventh Seal, a character struggling to make sense of life, says, "We make an idol of our fear, and call it God." This movie quote is how Oxford scholar David Atkinson begins his particularly fine commentary on the book of Ruth. In a dark world, full of violence and oppression, beset by disaster and human indifference, we shudder in the shadows and pray for God's help, and in our moments of anger, we dare to berate God for his shoddy ways, for his silence. This is the idol of pride: for we know that if given a chance, we could do a better job. Why is this idolatry? Because it is a forsaking of providence, and the establishment of a rival to Jehovah - ourselves. It is the idolatry of establishing a religion where "god" is a cosmic butler, and woe unto Him if he fail to answer our bell. This is the deepest darkness we can create for ourselves, darker than the world's evil, for this god is not the true God, but rather an illusion, a fabrication which ultimately fails to deliver on its promises, and then the wailing begins: "How could "god" allow this to happen?" The end result is a bitter rejection of religion and the life of communion with God in Christ, which is the outer darkness, the weeping and gnashing of teeth.

It is not hard to hear these cries in the media at this moment. There are a lot of religious "spokespersons" doing the hard work of theodicy (justifying God's ways to man) with varying degrees of success. If you listen carefully, however, many are still trying to defend this idol of the Butler. Why didn't the Butler come? Why did the Butler allow this hurricane? Where was the Butler when the church van crashed on the highway? Much of what is being said is nothing more than a defense of why the idol didn't save us this time.

I recently heard God described as "an invisible friend for adults." In other words, an unreal person we create to pacify us when we are afraid, and keep us company when we are lonely. Let us add another quality: someone who always meets our felt needs. This form of idolatry, the worship of a God divorced from biblical revelation, and created by our minds and hearts for our service, has had a devastating affect upon the church. It worms its way into sermons: we must be positive and never doctrinal. It changes worship: from adoring the Most High God, to a shallow form of spiritual entertainment. It changes theology: from thinking God's thoughts after Him in a noble science of biblical and systematic exploration, to a Christian publishing/media industry which churns out Family Bookstore loads of pop-psychology in Christian clothing.

John Calvin wrote that the human heart is a "factory of idols." How easily we forget that, and how easily we slip into idolatry ourselves. The beast must be fed, and the beast is the idol of our felt needs, and so we summon the Butler. The factory of idols is on triple shifts, and at 100% capacity. It always has been.

{the painting above is Nicholas Poussin's, "The Adoration of the Golden Calf" circa 1633}


Blogger Steve said...

Great post!

I like the Butler god picture. That's very helpful.

"Worship of a god divorced from Biblical revelation." That's the key.

9:39 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Therefore speak to them and tell them, 'This is what the Sovereign LORD says: When any Israelite sets up idols in his heart and puts a wicked stumbling block before his face and then goes to a prophet, I the LORD will answer him myself in keeping with his great idolatry. Ezekiel 14:4

Good post. It is easier to erect idols...than it is to remove them from the sanctuary.

Your servant in Christ

11:14 AM  
Blogger Weary Crusader said...

Your post is awesome!!!


1:52 PM  

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