Raiders of the Lost Ark
When I was a child, as most children do, I had many fictional and non-fictional heroes I admired. Of those heroes, one I absolutely loved was Indiana Jones. Indiana Jones was both action hero and clever intellectual, who let’s face it, did some pretty baller feats. Years later I would sadly come to find archaeology was nothing like the Errol Flynn style fights with Nazis and Doc Savage type adventures the Indiana Jones films depicted it as. This is neither here nor there. Anyway, there is always great debate amongst which Indiana Jones film is the best. The purists (biased) hold that Raiders is the best of the three, while others, usually younger fans, say Last Crusade is. Do I dare entertain the notion of the minorities who try to say Temple of Doom is the best of the series? Not that Temple of Doom was a bad film by any means, but in comparison to the other two, come on! My point. Whichever of the series is your favorite, Raiders (my favorite) has an excellent illustration in the first few minutes of the film. Indiana Jones finds himself in a temple and upon retrieving an idol the ruins begin to crumble. As he makes his way back to a chasm he had swung across with a whip, he finds one of his companions has betrayed him and taken the whip. “Throw me the Idol!” the guide shouts, making it clear he wants Indiana to trade the idol for the whip. Indiana hesitates, but then throws the idol. As the companion gains possession of the idol he drops the whip only to betray and abandon Indiana Jones. Of course, being the hero, Indiana finds a way across only to discover his companion dead on a booby trap, and like all good adventurers do, escapes the ruins narrowly dodging a giant boulder which rolled after him. As the good Doctor Jones made his was then encountered by a nemesis of his who in turn steals the idol and runs Indiana away.
Spoiler alert. Okay maybe that warning should have been at the beginning, but if you have not seen the film by now you deserve to have it spoiled for you.
Do we not respond the same to idols? Indiana Jones risked his life and limbs for an idol that in the end left him empty handed and no better off than where he began. His life in that moment was about the idol, and dying in the process was a price clearly worth paying. Do the idols in our lives have the same sort of power? Are we willing to devote and risk our life for empty idols of the world over God? Like Indiana Jones the only thing chasing idols will do is leave us betrayed and empty with nothing, but scars to show for it all.
The Not So Super Bowl
As the Super Bowl approaches I have been thinking a lot about idols and the relevance they have in the context of American Christianity. If you do not think idolatry still exists, turn on your television to the Super Bowl tomorrow,and you shall see it first-hand. A majority of the United States will spend billions of dollars to watch a game being played, investing emotions and time, to see one team win a hollow, cold, piece of metal at the end. Am I the only one who finds it sickening the way people kiss and touch the Lombardi trophy as it is brought out? We laugh at how pagan’s, tribal people, and the Hebrew people of old could worship metal or wood objects, yet the behavior over the Lombardi trophy is perfectly civilized behavior. By the way, the people who are so invested in the Super Bowl, just as many of them are Christians as not. I think the biggest surprise here is that I actually know the name of the Lombardi trophy. Oh, and before you get upset because I am singling out football, fret not, as this is only one among many examples of modern idolatry. Where gods once held names like Zeus and Mithra, today we call them names like commercialism and media. While today’s gods go by different names, the hearts behind them are remain the same.
Throw Me the Idol
What is an idol? We all know, or should know, what an idol is. An idol is anything that is not God, placed at the center becoming the object of worship in one’s life, the worship of the created, not the creator. Idolatry has become one of those sins that seems to be treated more like a mythical dragon in some storybook, than an actual serious problem still running amuck today. We read about the never ending idolatry of Israel and we think that is where it stopped. Images of primitive people, of tribal groups, dancing around statues, wearing nothing more than masks and their undies come to our mind before anything else. When was the last time you heard a sermon on idolatry? I cannot remember one recently. To be fair though, and this says nothing of any speakers I hear, I have the tendency to doze off from time to time during sermons, especially my own. My point is that idolatry has become one of the unspoken sins of Western Christianity. The sad truth to this fact is that idolatry is so common, yet pastors, teachers, leaders, who address it are so rare. Every one of us has an idol of some sort in our lives, those things we rationalize as being little passions or hobbies, but for seconds, minutes, hours, and even days they can and do replace God as the center of our existence.
Today we may not carry little wooden statues around, but where once people carried carvings, we now carry I-phones, where devotees once watched ceremonies, we watch films and television programs, and while the look of idols may have changed, the heart behind them still remains. I have a lot of gods in my life that are not God. If my devotion to God were there same as watching a new episode of Doctor Who or reading and interesting novel I would be a lot better off. As always, in the right context I am not knocking these things, but what I am knocking is our heart behind the practices and their comparison to our involvement with God. Is our worship toward worldly things and the created or God? Do I make worldly ideologies and principles my god over God? What about relationships? I have shared that for me marriage is something I desire, very much so, but I can tell you there are times where this desire goes from being Godly design, the idolatrous desire. The idea and implications of marriage, not to mention the bitter feelings from not being married, become my idol. For how many of you is your education or career the god of your life? Are you working or becoming educated to honor God and the life He has given you, or has the idols of financial or intellectual achievement become your god? Do you know more about certain media than God, than His Word? What does it say about me when I can tell a person more about the fictional character of Sherlock Holmes, than what I can the non-fictional person of Christ? I have heard groups of people, and yes this happens in Bible college, at every meal, of every day, talking more about superheroes and the zombie apocalypse, like they are actually real too, than things of the Spirit. It could even be the god in your life are physical or mental attributes. Is your investment into your body or mind because God gave it to you or because it has become a god you give in to? God may have made you a well put together male or female specimen, but none of that means anything unless He gets the credit, not yourself. And if anything give it time, the mind and body will eventually go, as true as it has been since the fall of Adam. You did not form yourself in the womb did you? If so email me I would like to hear about that one. Did you know that even lust is an idol? When we give into lust we are essentially playing God, as our actions declare that we know better about our needs and how to fulfill them, than what He does. On and on the idols go and where they stop no one knows. As westerners there are an unending plethora of idols. Idolatry has never been more convenient, available and acceptable than what it is today. The question we should now ask, do we just give up?
Fight the Good Fight of the Faith
I am a firm believer in the idea that both physically and mentally we should keep fighting until we are dead and there is no more fight to be fought. Of the never ending battles, idolatry and the risk of it will always be among that which we fight. Idolatry, like any sin, works in the hearts of human beings. I could sit here and make a long list of what is and is not an idol, manmade law of do’s and don’ts, but none of that would do a bit of good in the end. Idolatry is an issue of the heart, and what is an idol for me, may not be an idol for you. To some a television show may just be a television to show, while to someone else that same show may be an idol. Just because the face of idols change for each individual, does not mean the truth of them does. The only power any idol has is that which we give to it. Over and over again Israel gave into idolatry, and it was not the golden calves they made or false gods they worshipped that were the problem, those were just symptoms; Israel’s problem was that they made the center of their worship, their god, everything but God. Their idolatry began in their hearts. What has replaced god in different the various aspects of our lives? What have we allowed our hearts to make god above God? How has the old nature of our flesh, become god of our lives, over our new nature in Christ? As I ask these questions I am right along with each and every one of you in this. The answer is that as believer’s we need to not focus on rules and regulations to keep our hearts from making idols, but to simply keep God, god and enjoy the reality He has given us in Himself and our position in Christ. The more we fellowship and follow God, the more our heart will see the weight of Him over the things not of Him. A person who sees things through the Creator appreciates the creation, but knows it is nothing without the One who created it. People admire Van Gogh’s Starry Night, not because of the painting itself, but because of the artist who painted it. I do not have a deep theological solution or even a three step process for dealing with idolatry, all I can tell you is to walk with Him and by His word. I am just like you, I am not a theologian, nor a scholar, I am simply a Bible student trying to walk with the Lord one day at a time. In this moment He is God of my life, and while I may not always walk in this truth, a few lost battles will never change the fact that the war is won.