American Idolatry

by Andy Wood on January 13, 2010

in Gamblers, LV Alter-egos, LV Cycle, Pleasers, Protecting Your Investment

He is jealous for me

Loves like a hurricane, I am a tree

Bending beneath the weight of His wind and mercy

american-idol-stage“If only he can see how good I am,” Jake says to himself as he waits among the cast of thousands.  “Surely he will see what Mama and my cousins all see… and maybe, just maybe I could just be the next…”

Whoa, Dawg.  That’s a little pitchy for me.

On the banks of a river called Jabbock, a man watches the last of his family disappear on the other side, just as the sun begins to set.  On that side of the river, judgment day awaits.  For more than 20 years, Jacob has lived a charmed – and charming – life.  He married the woman of his dreams, has a dozen sons and a daughter, and is a biz whiz like, well, nobody’s business.

But the time has come to face down some ghosts from his past, and demons in his soul.  Jacob must face the twin he betrayed tomorrow.  But tonight, he has an appointment to meet with God.  And to face himself in the process.

Simon says:  Absolutely dreadful.

This kind of encounter allows for no distractions of any type.  It requires a man to stand stripped of all his assets and prerogatives – alone before God, to look at who he is without the comfort or deception of those things.  He must be reduced to nothing, refined in the fire of God’s holiness, and redefined by God’s own definition.

Neither Rachael nor Leah, nor any of his family or servants have a voice in this confrontation.  This is Jacob’s unfinished business.  And to his credit, he knows it on some level.  And he’s willing to have that meeting with his greatest fear, and his greatest flaw.

Jacob is laying down his idols, once and for all.

A Slick Substitute

When it comes to dealing with the Instructions, we do a fair job of understanding the “don’ts.”  Stealing, murder, false witness – those make sense on some level.  It’s the first two we choke on.  God says,

“You shall have no other gods before Me.  You shall not make for yourself an idol, or any likeness of what is in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the water under the earth.  You shall not worship them or serve them; for I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God…” (Exodus 20:3-5).

Here’s what my favorite rabbi  says about that:

In the Bible, the sin of idolatry is not just a matter of bowing down to statues.  Idol worship is treating the work of your own hands as if it were divine, worshiping yourself as the highest source of value and creativity… Do not make yourself into an object of worship by believing that you have enough power to control the world in which you live and the other people who live in it (Emphasis mine).

Wow.  Four “yeses,” Jake.  You’re on your way to Hollywood.

You too, Andy.

So What’s YOUR Idol?

In many ways, there is nothing new under the sun.  Humans in every generation make idols of the three raw forces that drive sin and the world:  pleasure, materialism, and pride.  That said, every succeeding culture, and every individual, has their own dance with idolatry and, if God is on their radar at all, their own dance with a jealous God.

Here are three very deceptive expressions of God-substitutes that are prevalent in our culture:

Control Idolatry

Why would people want to create idols?  Because the idea of idolatry does what the One True God never will.  Idolatry allows us to glory in ourselves.  That’s why, in contrasting idols from the true and living God, the psalmist says, “Not to us, O Lord, not to us, But to Your name give glory.”  All idols – intentional or distracting – have that same effect.  They give us a “god” we can control, and take credit for.

Years ago I spent a lot of time, money, and relational capital to learn a simple, but life-changing truth:  I can feel safe, even when I’m not in control.

It amazes me the lengths we will go to maintain the illusion that we can be the masters of our own universe.  People will lie, cheat, fantasize, bully, talk or not talk, manipulate, isolate – even run for Congress or go into ministry – all just to feel that sense of control and order.

To quote the psalmist: “The One who rules the heavens laughs” (Psalm 2:4).  You think you’re what?

To lay down your idols, Jacob learned, is to abandon the compulsive desire to know how it’s all going to turn out, and to control every outcome.  There is genuine freedom in that, but we never discover it until we risk trusting God with whatever situation we face. 

Codependent Idolatry

In 1997 two different women recorded the same song.  One, Trisha Yearwood, received an Academy Award nomination.  The other, Leann Rimes, remained on the Billboard Top 100 Chart for a record 69 weeks.  The song?  The unofficial codependent’s theme song – “How Do I Live Without You?

As tender and sweet as that song is (and I really like it), peel back the package for just a minute.  Here’s what it is saying:  I am so hopelessly dependent on you that I can’t get through the night, survive an uncertain future, or even breathe without having you share the same room air.  You are the source of everything good in my life.

Wonder why it was (and is) so popular?

No question about it:  the greatest gift we have on earth is each other.  But often our greatest gifts become our most alluring idols.  It’s one thing to love, respect, or appreciate someone.  It’s another to allow them to become a substitute for God.

Self-righteous Idolatry

Psalm 73 reveals one of the most deceptive and insidious forms of idolatry there is – believing that your performance entitles you to certain rewards.

Here’s a guy who looked around and didn’t like what he saw.  His righteous life was filled with hardship, while the wicked had everything going for them.  They have physical ease.  They are free from common burdens – “not plagued by human ills”.  They walk proudly, and do whatever they please.  I love this:  “Their mouths lay claim to heaven and their tongues take possession of the earth.”  Because of this, people turn to them.  And THAT turns into money, prestige, or pride.

And the psalmist?  Jealous.  Actually used the “F” word with God.  “I deserve better than this,” he says, “and You’re not being fair.”

You sure you want to use that as your argument with God?  You really want to press in on what you deserve?

Here’s the way self-righteous idolatry thinks:  Because I keep the rules and try to do what’s right or godly or moral or just, I deserve to have an easier, better life here and now.

Once he got some perspective, the psalmist came to this conclusion:

 Whom have I in heaven but You?

And besides You, I desire nothing on earth (Psalm 73:25).

 In answer to the question “What’s in it for me?” he realized that GOD is what’s in it for him.  And that is enough.  But to fully experience the truth of that, he had to arrive at the decision that he desired nothing on the earth but the Lord.  Not physical ease.  Not freedom from “human ills.”  Not autonomy or a proud life.  Not money, prestige, or material wealth.  Just God.

A Jealous God

Charles Spurgeon once wrote, “A jealous God will not be content with a divided heart; He must be loved first and best. He will withdraw the sunshine of His presence from a cold, wandering heart.”

I used to think that God’s jealousy was an expression of His (may I say it?) narrow-minded holiness.  But it isn’t.  He is jealous for me because He “loves like a hurricane, and I am a tree… bending beneath the weight of His wind and mercy.”  God loves me enough to know I need to love Him with complete abandon.

The old axiom is still true.  Sometimes you don’t know that Jesus is all you need until Jesus is all you have… and Jesus is enough. 

So is He?

A thousand percent, yes.

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