What thing – if you lost it – could almost mean that you would lose the will to live? What thing – if you lost it – could mean that almost all significance and value would be drained from your life? (Tim Keller)
We all have something like that. The Bible calls these things idols. Counterfeit gods. A pseudo-salvation. An idol is anything we rest our heart in more than God. An idol is anything that comes before God in how we view our identity, self-worth or significance. Therefore, idols are all good things that are turned into ultimate things; good things, but loved out of order to God. (Incidentally this is how St. Augustine defined sin: “Disordered love”). And because they bear the weight of a love they aren’t intended to, idols will always break our hearts.
Will I never cease to set my heart on shadows and follow a lie? (The Confessions, quoted in Malcolm Muggeridge)
Listen to how the very successful, postmodern author, David Foster Wallace, spoke about this at a commencement speech shortly before he tragically took his own life:
Because here’s something else that’s weird but true: in the day-to day trenches of adult life, there is actually no such thing as atheism. There is no such thing as not worshipping. Everybody worships. The only choice we get is what to worship. And the compelling reason for maybe choosing some sort of god or spiritual-type thing to worship — be it JC or Allah, be it YHWH or the Wiccan Mother Goddess, or the Four Noble Truths, or some inviolable set of ethical principles — is that pretty much anything else you worship will eat you alive. If you worship money and things, if they are where you tap real meaning in life, then you will never have enough, never feel you have enough. It’s the truth. Worship your body and beauty and sexual allure and you will always feel ugly. And when time and age start showing, you will die a million deaths before they finally grieve you. On one level, we all know this stuff already. It’s been codified as myths, proverbs, clichés, epigrams, parables; the skeleton of every great story. The whole trick is keeping the truth up front in daily consciousness. Worship power, you will end up feeling weak and afraid, and you will need ever more power over others to numb you to your own fear. Worship your intellect, being seen as smart, you will end up feeling stupid, a fraud, always on the verge of being found out. But the insidious thing about these forms of worship is not that they’re evil or sinful, it’s that they’re unconscious. They are default settings. They’re the kind of worship you just gradually slip into, day after day, getting more and more selective about what you see and how you measure value without ever being fully aware that that’s what you’re doing. (David Foster Wallace)
Now money, sex and power are the idols typically mentioned. But we can’t let ourselves feel excused if we don’t suffer from worshiping at those particular altars. The fact is that there is, pretty much always, something we have to be wrestling our heart away from so that we may give it to God wholeheartedly (at least at most points of our lives). We all find ourselves written about in Romans 1:18-25 and Romans 3:23, regardless of how Christian we are. That is why a dogged commitment to praying daily is so vital, because how else can they be exposed?
How do we know what our idols are? Here’s 10-minutes worth of wisdom on just that.
And once we’ve recognized them, to some degree, what do we do about them?
The love of God and the love of the world, are two affections, not merely in a state of rivalship, but in a state of enmity – and that so irreconcilable, that they cannot dwell together in the same bosom. We have already affirmed how impossible it were for the heart, by any innate elasticity of its own, to cast the world away from it; and thus reduce itself to a wilderness. The heart is not so constituted; and the only way to dispossess it of an old affection, is by the expulsive power of a new one. (Thomas Chalmers)
St. John of the Cross says the exact same thing. Nobody changes bad habits by just trying. The only way to overcome idols is by falling more deeply in love with God. Seduction is defeated only by being more and more melted by the truth of our lives being “hidden with Christ in God” (Col. 3:3). Only by the power of God’s Word being more deeply applied and pressed into the very fabric of our hearts.
What can do that? Only God Himself. Only by the Holy Spirit doing this work in us. And that is not the answer we like to hear; because (darn it!) we want to be able to do something about it? But, “the wind blows where it wills” (John 3:8) and the best of what we can do is surrender to what love He wants to make in us.
But we can ask! We can ask for a new, explosive, abiding sight and love of Him in our heart of hearts so that our idols do not allure us as they do right now. We can ask, in Jesus’ name, for our loves to be set in order. We can ask for a renewal of our minds, so that we can subjectively live in the truth of His Word: that “our lives are hidden with Christ in God” (Col. 3:3), that “it is no longer I who live, but Christ in me” (Gal. 2:20), and that everything is refuse “compared to the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord” (Phil. 3:8).
Do not lose heart in the battle against your idols. Do not tire of asking. If you ask…