Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Idolatry 1

I don't know whether this is an error of culture, modernity, youth, or whether  it is a universal error of mankind, but throughout my Christian life, my perspective on sin has largely been one of sin as moral failure.  

What I mean is that I have seen sin primarily as doing what is forbidden (sins of commission) or failure to do what is required (sins of omission).  While these distinctions might be helpful for categorizing sins, they can also leave us with the strong impression that sin is first and foremost moral failure...a breaking of the Law, so to speak.

Before you panic, let me clarify something.  I am not attempting to negate the reality of God's commandments, nor am I denying that moral failure is real failure and real sin.  But again, this truncated view of sin not only leaves us with a very anemic understanding, but also promotes legalism, which either produces a smug self-satisfaction (because I see myself as keeping the Law), or it leaves us carrying an unnecessarily heavy load of guilt (because I see my constant failure to keep the Law). 

The biggest problem with this view, is that it does not strike at the root of the sin.  It is about doing or not doing.  Being or not being.  My will.  My choices.  My decisions.  But this is only the beginning and a childish, immature perspective on sin.

I would suggest that whatever way our particular sins are manifest, the root of every single one is idolatry, but we have to train ourselves to see it.  The moral failure is only the outward manifestation of an inner idolatrous belief or unbelief.

Perhaps this is not such a profound realization, but for me, as I apply it to my own sins, it presents a significant shift.  In the past, when I have looked underneath the surface of my sins, I might have recognized a failure to trust God, or a commitment to please myself, but even in that I saw primarily a moral failure to be or to do what I ought
Maybe I can illustrate what I mean:

Let's say (and this is purely hypothetical, you know) a mom loses her cool with her children, yelling at and even belittling them ("Why don't you"..."Can't you just"..."How many times"..."Will you ever"...?!!).   This mother has violated God's Law in venting her anger this way.  More to the heart of it, she has not treated them the way she would want to be treated, violating the all-encompassing law of love.  But in order to deal most fully with her sin, this mom needs to look further than just her failure.  Somewhere in her heart, this mom has an idol.

An idol is anything to which we look for satisfaction, joy, peace, rest.  Very often we assume "Self" is the idol, and it may often be, but we also tend to idolize ideas, institutions, ideals, or other people.  I imagine that it might have been easier to identify idols of the heart back when we actually erected shrines in our homes to gods and goddesses.  But since we no longer do that, we have to do the hard work of soul-searching.

So, back to our hypothetical angry mom.  She lost her temper because she has placed her confidence in something and it has been frustrated, leading to angry outbursts.  Perhaps her idol is motherhood itself and her ideal image of mothering is being dismantled!  Perhaps her idol is the idea of a Christian home and her efforts to create that reality are being thwarted by these hooligans!  Perhaps the children themselves are the idol and she cannot abide their imperfections!  Perhaps her idol is other's view of her...she needs to be seen as a good mom by others.   Ultimately, there is some heart commitment that has set itself up as a source of life...that which will fulfill, satisfy, bring contentment or joy.  This is her idol, and until she identifies where she has placed her expectations and her confidence...her TRUST...she will continue to deal ineffectively with her sin.

So it is with all sin.  It looks like - and IS - an outward moral failure, but the heart of it is an idolatrous trust...confidence in something or someone other than the Triune God.  And it isn't just the obvious things or "bad" things (like material possessions...) that we are prone to idolize.  It can be GOOD things...getting married, having a child, faithful children, opportunities to use my gifts, Christian education, health, friendships, marriage, talents, recognition, godly leadership, ease, intellect, success, recreation, etc.  These are things to be desired and welcomed...but not TRUSTED IN.

I don't pretend that viewing our sin this way is a simple shift in thinking that changes everything.  It can be very difficult for us to identify our idols.  Once we do, it can still be very difficult to acknowledge the truth of what we have seen...we are good at talking ourselves out of the truth.  It can be still more difficult, once we identify and acknowledge our idolatry, to destroy it.  Afterall, it often presents itself in a beautiful form which we don't want to destroy!

I am trying to learn to examine my own sin in this way.  And for reasons I don't yet fully understand, when I finally identify the idolatry behind a particular sin, I seem to more easily find freedom from the weight of it.   Maybe it's as simple as having actually repented of the REAL sin and not just the outward expression of it.  I don't know.

What I do know, is that the Lord is gracious and compassionate, and whether or not I get to the heart of my sin, He hears my confession and forgives me.  He forgives my moral failure and He forgives my idolatry and unbelief.  Thanks be to God. 

1 comment:

Rebekah said...

This was good. Thanks.