Friday, April 23, 2010

Christianity And Culture: Living In The Image Of God Part 2

As we think about how to evaluate and understand culture, let's take a closer look at idolatry.

There is no neutral ground in the universe: every square inch, every split second, is claimed by God and counterclaimed by Satan.   C.S. Lewis

I would suggest that this first consequence of the fall, being inclined toward idolatry, is the greatest of the consequences, and is the root of all other consequences.

Evil consists not in being created but in the rebellious idolatry by which humans worship and honor elements of the natural world rather than the God who made them. The result is that the cosmos is out of joint. Instead of humans being God’s vice-regents over creation, they ignore the creator and try to worship something less demanding, something that will give them a short-term fix of power or pleasure. N.T. Wright


1. Is anything that is put in place of God - We use idols to avoid God and his holiness.

For when we cease to worship God, we do not worship nothing, we worship anything. G.K. Chesterton

2. Comes in pairs - Dominion and trust are replaced with domination and overdependence. The nearby god results from the need of dominion corrupted into domination and the faraway god results from the need for trust corrupted into overdependence. Jeremiah 23:23-24
Examples of nearby gods are technique, expertise, money, health, and law/legalism.
Examples of faraway gods are chance, fate, self-esteem, financial security, and our own idea of God.

3. Deceives - Enslaves and overpowers us. Tolkien’s literary portrayal of Smeagol being transformed into Gollum is an excellent image of what happens to us when we turn to idols. He can no longer say “I” and can only say,“we”. It is the psychology of damnation. Whatever we worship, we become. 

 Psalm 115:4-8
Their idols are silver and gold,
the work of human hands.
They have mouths, but do not speak;
eyes, but do not see.
They have ears, but do not hear;
noses, but do not smell.
They have hands, but do not feel;
feet, but do not walk;
and they do not make a sound in their throat.
Those who make them become like them;
so do all who trust in them.

A man is in bondage to whatever he cannot part with that is less than himself.  George MacDonald

4. Fails us,  which we see happen to Baal's prophets in I Kings 18:20-29.
20 So Ahab sent to all the people of Israel and gathered the prophets together at Mount Carmel. 21 And Elijah came near to all the people and said, “How long will you go limping between two different opinions? If the Lord is God, follow him; but if Baal, then follow him.” And the people did not answer him a word. 22 Then Elijah said to the people, “I, even I only, am left a prophet of the Lord, but Baal's prophets are 450 men. 23 Let two bulls be given to us, and let them choose one bull for themselves and cut it in pieces and lay it on the wood, but put no fire to it. And I will prepare the other bull and lay it on the wood and put no fire to it. 24 And you call upon the name of your god, and I will call upon the name of the Lord, and the God who answers by fire, he is God.” And all the people answered, “It is well spoken.” 25 Then Elijah said to the prophets of Baal, “Choose for yourselves one bull and prepare it first, for you are many, and call upon the name of your god, but put no fire to it.” 26 And they took the bull that was given them, and they prepared it and called upon the name of Baal from morning until noon, saying, “O Baal, answer us!” But there was no voice, and no one answered. And they limped around the altar that they had made. 27 And at noon Elijah mocked them, saying, “Cry aloud, for he is a god. Either he is musing, or he is relieving himself, or he is on a journey, or perhaps he is asleep and must be awakened.” 28 And they cried aloud and cut themselves after their custom with swords and lances, until the blood gushed out upon them. 29 And as midday passed, they raved on until the time of the offering of the oblation, but there was no voice. No one answered; no one paid attention.
You can’t get second things by putting them first; you get the second things only by putting first things first.  C.S. Lewis, First Things, in God in the Dock
The scriptures teach that idolatry is taken into the heart by the learned (Ezekiel 14:1-5), associated with sexual immorality and covetousness (Ephesians 5:5), associated with sexual immorality , impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness. (Colossians 3:5), and participation with demons (I Corinthians 10:14-33).

In the temptations of Jesus  in Matthew 4:1-11, the first temptation is to put trust in the nearby god of physical security, the second temptation is to put trust in a god of a different character than Yahweh and the third temptation is to put trust in the nearby god of personal dominion/domination.  All the temptations are to go about attaining the Kingdom without the cross, and giving in to them would be idolatrous.  (See my earlier post, Stones To Bread, for more thoughts on Christ's temptations.)

Sacrifice as much as you please, cajole and flatter as you please, beat your disobedient idol with a big stick if you please-the thing still won't give you what you want. In consequence, all idolatrous cultures tend to get nastier and nastier. If a small bribe doesn't succeed, they offer more. The idol will not respond to a dance of virgins with flowers? Very well, let's try a dance of warriors mutilating themselves with knives. You have cut off a lock of your hair and laid it before the idol, yet life is still dark? Try cutting your first-born's throat and offering him. Nor does the idol's continued silence teach you better sense, if you're a natural-born idolater. For if Mumbo-Jumbo is so bard to please, what a very great Mumbo-Jumbo he must be !
Joy Davidman from Smoke on the Mountain.

What kind of idols does our society worship?  What sacrifices do these idols demand?  What kind of culture does this create?

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