Saturday, January 26, 2013

America’s Favorite Pastime: Idolatry

The first mention of teraphim in the Scriptures is located in Gen. 31:19. Rachael, the young wife of Jacob and daughter of Laban decided that when she left her father’s house, she would take his idols with her. Clearly, she had an attachment to the relics. When her father caught up with Jacob’s company, he searched all Jacob’s possessions but could not find the idols. As it turns out, Rachael was sitting on them. This would indicate that the idols were very small. Both Rachael and Laban’s actions indicate that the idols were of considerable value to them.
For years, the sports world has touted baseball as the American pastime. Indeed, baseball has endeared itself to American society for decades. Despite its spread to other cultures, and its success in those cultures, baseball is an American sport. There are 162 games every year, beginning in April and ending in October. There are teams from the majors to the minors in just about every city of any size. However, America has another pastime that is much more pervasive than any sport ever has been, is, or ever will be. America is a nation full of idolaters. Of all the pastimes that we engage in here in America, nothing comes close to the prevalence of idolatry. Idolatry, both in and outside the visible Christian community is indeed ubiquitous. Moreover, our preachers, and professors and teachers seem to have forgotten all about the practice of idolatry because it is indeed a rare occasion to hear it condemned, criticized, or rebuked. This is due in part to the fact that we no longer point people up to God but rather, point them inward to God who apparently now lives in all our hearts and understands us and loves us so much, that He would hardly speak a harsh word to us regardless of how we behave. After all, we are all poor, imperfect sinners in need of grace and love. Sin is no longer an autonomous ungodly act of rebellion against a holy God who is entitled to be obeyed in all things. Rather, sin is an imperfection, and nearly a harmless one at that.  If you think about this perspective long enough, you can see the idolatry of self-worship. We care more about how we feel about ourselves than we do obeying our professed Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.

Most people think that idolatry is the worship of objects rather than God. We have this idea that an idol is and always has been the object itself of worship. This is really not the case. “Earlier this century anthropologists spoke of fetishism: they accepted that there were people who actually confused the sign and the thing signified. Such an interpretation is no longer favored: current theory holds that the god may be manifest in the image, but is always more than the image.” [NIDOTTE, vol. 4, 715] The physical object is merely a sign of the god behind it. There is always more to the god than the idol itself. The sign always represents a god of sorts, but is not the extent of the god it signifies. When Aaron made the golden calf, he said, “This is you god, O Israel, who brought you up from the land of Egypt.” (Ex. 32:4) Did Aaron intend to say that the God he was familiar with was not the God who rescued Israel, or did he intend the calf to signify Yahweh? It seems more reasonable to me to hold to the latter. Yet, either way, the egregious sin of idolatry was the result regardless of how you interpret Aaron’s behavior.
Idolatry has its roots in the original sin of our parents. The serpent said to Eve, “You will be like God.” The thought proved to be irresistible to our parents and man was casted into the abyss of separation from God. The idea that we could determine morality for ourselves and that we could know things without dependence on the Creator was simply too tantalizing. Hence, Satan provoked the fall with the temptation to idolatry. Satan planted the seed of autonomy, watered it with a touch of idolatry, and indeed it spouted, took root, and like a vine, it has defaced everything it touches.

The Hebrew word, pasas, פצר located in 1 Sam. 15:23 is compared with the sin of idolatry. It means to push, or to press. In the professional world when we are floating an idea or making a suggestion and someone rejects it, we call it “push back.” It is translated insubordination in I Sam. 15:23. This behavior is rooted in human autonomy, which the writer classifies with idolatry. When we reject God’s design, His order, we push back on God. As independent thinkers living in a culture of radical individualism, not only is this behavior prevalent, society often extols it as a virtue. This can be expected of a godless culture that has perverted nearly every shred of truth God ever gave it, but for it to be commonplace in the Christian community is utterly contemptible. We being disrepute and shame to the name of the God we worship when we not only engage in such practices, but just as well, when we tolerate them without a word of protest to leadership.
America idolizes science, reason, and experience as the means by which we can know truth. Rationalism, empiricism, and existentialism have displaced revelation to pave the way for unimpeded idolatry. We live in a culture where so-called experts will speculate if Brent Musburger should be fired for calling a college beauty queen ‘beautiful’, but then in their next meeting, extol the merits of gay sex as if it were love, and consider the murder of babies to be a woman’s health issue. A great philosopher once said, “Stupid is as stupid does.” Yes, the arguments are exceptionally stupid because they attempt to explain reality, and establish a morality apart from and contradictory to God. We expect such wickedness from depraved humans. It testifies about the holiness of God by pointing us to the consequences of the fall. Autonomy and idolatry are indeed pervasive in American society. In fact, a culture built on the idea of radical individualism could never ever be a culture with God at the center, not really. Perhaps in her early beginnings when the pilgrims came to these shores, their intentions were in the right place. The idea of practicing one’s religion without persecution is indeed an attractive one. However, I cannot resist the urge to point out that we should at least ask if it was the right motivation from the start. I am not claiming that it was or that it was not. I am urging, at a minimum, that we maintain a willingness to ask the question and enter the discussion. I digress.

What does idolatry look like in our hearts? Are Christians, genuine Christians shielded from the temptation to practice idolatry? Is it possible for you and I, with Christ in our hearts, to commit acts of idolatry? “Therefore consider the members of your earthly body as dead to immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and greed, which amounts to idolatry.” (Col. 3:5) In short, it appears we can. If we can be tempted with lust and greed, we are tempted to commit idolatry. When we attempt to abuse grace in hopes of being lax on sin, we commit idolatry. When we refuse to commit to Church membership, this is a sign of autonomy which is idolatry. The idea that you can exist in the Christian community without accountability to the Church is a modern American phenomenon anchored in godless individualism and autonomy. Rejection of Scripture as the authoritative word of God is idolatry. Divorce against Scripture’s command is idolatry. Leaving the Church because we don’t get our way can be an act of idolatry. Refusal to submit to your elders is idolatry. “And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength.’” (Mk. 12:30)

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