The Spectrum of Idolatry part 7 An Idol Is Nothing

“Hear, O my people, and I will testify unto thee: O Israel, if thou wilt hearken unto me; There shall no strange god be in thee; neither shalt thou worship any strange god. I am the Lord thy God which brought thee out of the land of Egypt: open thy mouth wide, and I will fill it.” (Psalm 81:8-10)

What is it that gets your attention and keeps it? Anything from fear to, not hope but anxiety, to obsession. All along the spectrum that God freely provides do things of tangibility or intangibility seek to wrest and arrest our attention from Our Father Who Art In Heaven. Keep this in mind as all of the positives of the aforementioned spectrum are resident in God the Father. They both originate from His heart and emanate from there into the world, as well. But where then, for the believer in Jesus Christ do any of the negative perceptions of God come? We know that God is our Heavenly Father but do we really know Him? How can there be, alongside this newfound Father-child relationship anything that would keep us from looking Him full in the face and throwing our arms around His neck in embrace?

Idols of the King

Idolatry takes many forms. If you’ve read up till here from part one of this series, you’ve seen ancient idolatry in the form of Pagan gods, simple objects and even our brothers and sisters in Christ. But what about an idol in the form of a wrong perception of the Father? That’s a new one. One of the most important life lessons to learn, in my opinion, is that of seeing the Father as Jesus saw Him. As the most loving and kind and awesome person you’d ever want to meet but that is actually closer to you than you ever dreamed possible.

“And if any man think that he knoweth any thing, he knoweth nothing yet as he ought to know. But if any man love God, the same is known of Him. As concerning therefore the eating of those things that are offered in sacrifice unto idols, we know that an idol is nothing in the world, and that there is none other God but one.” (1 Corinthians 8:2-4, emphasis mine)

A wrong perception as to God’s true character could come from anywhere. From peers to parents and anyone in between. Pastors and mentors and any number of figures who mean well but don’t know the Father as do you. You may be childlike in your faith and understanding. But this doesn’t mean that your heart isn’t in sync with the Father’s. As Paul writes in the above passage, it’s the jumping-the-gun that we as humans tend to do that prevent, not just us from truly understanding any topic, but that also prevent God from knowing us. God the Father knows the hairs on your head and every last minute detail (how do you think He’s able to do for you the little things He does?) about your person. But does He really know you? Do you know Him? Keep pressing in.

King of the monsters

“For it was not an enemy that reproached me; then I could have borne it: neither was it he that hated me that did magnify himself against me; then I would have hid myself from him:” (Psalm 55:12)

When I was a kid, I fell in love with the old image of Godzilla from the fifties. This giant monster leveling buildings and breathing fire and destroying the destroyer. I even had a dream about him. While he didn’t show in the dream, he made his presence known. I’ll explain. It’s the middle of the night and I find myself, wheelchair bound, on one of my neighborhood streets. My friends are standing by, I presume having rolled me up to where I was. The feeling of helplessness and paralysis was not pleasant, rendering this dream more of a nightmare, really. But we’re all there and the wind is blowing. At about this time, my four or five friends and I hear something akin to the Tyrannosaur from Jurassic Park (though this dream would have happened in the late eighties–predating that movie) slowly stomping towards us. It dawns on me that it’s Godzilla though I can’t see him. At this point, my friends up and abandon me, leaving me at the mercy of the approaching monster. My physical paralysis turns to a fear-based one and it’s then that the dream ends. This dream haunted me for years. It wasn’t until recently–coinciding with the release in May of the remake–that I really saw what the dream meant. If you’ve ever seen either the original or the remake from 2014 (forget the 1999 version), you know that Godzilla isn’t the bad guy. And neither is God.

“Now concerning spiritual gifts brethren, I would not have you ignorant. Ye know that ye were Gentiles, carried away unto these dumb idols, even as ye were led.” (1 Corinthians 12:1-2)

“So the Lord alone did lead him, and there was no strange god with him.” (Deuteronomy 32:12)

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The Spectrum of Idolatry part 6 See Through

“If you need wisdom, ask our generous God, and He will give it to you. He will not rebuke you for asking.” (James 1:5 NLT)

Something I’ve had trouble with my whole life is looking at other Christians as more than what they were. When once I’d witness a brother or sister in Christ striding across the stage or boldly proclaiming the Word of God to those standing by or even performing miracles on unsuspecting onlookers (all legitimate I can assure you), I would feel something akin to jealousy. I can distinctly remember feeling overawed at their composure and prowess and even things of selflessness like humility and joy and peace and love. All these things struck me as foreign and desirable. Desirable, yes. Foreign, no.

“But the hour now cometh, and now is, when the true worshippers shall worship the Father in spirit and truth: for the Father seeketh such to worship Him. God is a Spirit: and they that worship Him must worship Him in spirit and truth.” (John 4:23b-24)

I remember once on the way to work thinking about Paul’s statement “I can do all things through Christ who strengtheneth me”. After explaining the polarities of what he’d gone through in service to God and the Gospel, he sews up his story with that statement. This is the point. But from thinking on that verse, I remember having gone off on a tangent beginning with an initial thought that there were other Christians out there in the world who had done right by this verse–had appropriated it into their walk and didn’t experience some of the handicaps as did (and do) I. Before I go any further, let me just say that they are gifts. But moving forward, I’m telling you that the latticework of thoughts I had built up around incorrectly thinking on Paul’s declaration had effectively blocked me into my mental cage. My overthinking had prevented me from seeing a way out. Just when I began to think I had made some serious mistakes related to what I was going through at the time and that had prompted the weakness I felt that had led me to implore the power behind the verse in the first place, the Lord (Jesus) spoke to my heart and said “remember how I taught you” (italic His). And I got it. I suppose I should mention that the person on which I attached the ideal notion of “perfect Christian, successful and prosperous and without a trace of trouble” does not exist–at least not on this earth. If you look at someone that “nameth the name of Christ” (2 Timothy 2:19) and they aren’t giving glory to God for being in the desirable state they are, they quite possibly might be leading people astray. But that’s for God to judge and for me to pray and also not care about right now. When Jesus reminded me of the curriculum He’d brought me through and how it tied into the way He made me (the way I’m wired), it cleared away the tangles in which I found myself.

“But of Him are ye in Christ Jesus, who of God is made unto us, wisdom, and righteousness, and sanctification, and redemption:” (1 Corinthians 1:30)

Referring again to the aforementioned real Christians, I have nothing but love and respect for them. But if I’m going to emulate someone I don’t know and at present am unable to (everyone’s so busy), then the Lord can’t grow me up in the ways He would like. No doubt He uses others to rub off on us. But it’s idolatry if I only want to listen to them instead of striking out on my own with God as my guide. And no doubt anyone truly following Christ would want you looking at Him as opposed to them for your life. I can’t provide anything for you that you can’t get from Him yourself.

Paul speaks again in Galatians (1:11-12): “But I certify you, brethren, that the gospel which was preached of me is not after man. For I neither received it of man, neither was I taught it, but by the revelation of Jesus Christ.”

Take what you need from those that inspire you–Christian and non–but then show it to God for notarization. The gifts came from Him in the first place.

“Whatever is good and perfect comes down to us from God our Father, who created all the lights in the heavens. He never changes or casts a shifting shadow.” (James 1:17 NLT)

The Spectrum of Idolatry part 5 Image and Likeness

“For ye are dead, and your life is hid with Christ in God.” (Colossians 3:3)

We get God. What an amazing trade-off. If I, through the abdication of my self–the giving up of everything I’d worked so hard to attain and maintain–get something higher, I’m all for it. But it’s an act of the will you understand.

“He must increase but I must decrease.” (John 3:30)

Wean

It can be hard looking beyond both ourselves and also other people in order to receive what we think they’ll give us. I may be prescribing something that isn’t there but follow me here. At least let me describe it. If you only look outward to other people for things, intangibles that only God can give you, then you have a long way to go in life. God supplies us with those things of hope and encouragement and peace and purpose that we may incorrectly think others have and can give (or from whom we can take). Besides, no one wants to appear existentially needy in the face of everyone else. To so wear one’s heart on his sleeve that anyone observing turns away for fear is not how anyone wants to live, I think. I can attest to feeling tinges of this mania.

“And God said, Let us make man in our image, after our likeness…So God created man in His own image, in the image of God created He him; male and female created He them.” (Genesis 1:26a-27)

Ween

Following the point made here by the Lord, it would seem that when we look at people, we’re actually looking at God. Is that too simple a one-to-One supposition? Think about it. At this point in my life, I most certainly haven’t wrapped my mind around the near-dichotomous simplicity of His statement. But growing up, all I saw was that God looked like a humanoid, if that makes sense. Two arms, two legs, His head in the same place as ours. This would be the default way of thinking “up” from my station as a human. And because I’ve always believed in God, I didn’t have any trouble positing Him in my mind. I couldn’t make out features, mind you. But the whole “image and likeness” thing was understood along these lines. Then as I grew up and grew older, the Holy Spirit began to intimate to me that I was indeed looking at Him through my own eyes. I needed a higher vantage point from which to see Him. I needed to see Him through the, how can I say this, “mind of Christ” (2 Corinthians 2:16). God must reveal Himself to you, in other words. The word “image” in the above passage from Genesis has the connotation of “idol” in the Hebrew.

“There hath no temptation taken you but such as is common to man… Wherefore, my dearly beloved, flee from idolatry.” (1 Corinthians 1:13a-14)

And this is where idolatry comes in–on a human level. It’s one thing to love people. To unspool your heart out to others and give toward meeting their need. It’s all done towards the Lord. “Inasmuch as ye have done it unto the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me.” (Matthew 25:40b) Says Jesus. Idolatry may be divorced from physical objects. But looking at people with the same vision God has given us to see–and that is supposed to be directed towards Him–is idolatry. Just because people are amazing and beautiful and intriguing and most certainly worth loving–inside and out–doesn’t mean it’s a substitute for knowing the Lord.

“Let us search and try our ways, and turn again to the Lord. Let us lift up our heart with our hands unto God in the heavens.” (Lamentations 3:40-41)

“Wean” and “ween” come from the same root. While the former is more common and means to slowly disabuse (right word?) oneself from what might be a perfectly healthy-yet-now-outmoded thing, the latter word is almost the inverse. That they come from the same Indo-European root is intriguing in that the both deal with desire. The former meaning the end of one and the latter meaning to hope toward something.

“Whom have I in Heaven but Thee? And there is none upon earth that I desire beside Thee.” (Psalm 73:25)

 

The Spectrum of Idolatry part 4 Example and Shadow

“For if He were on earth, He should not be a priest, seeing there are priests that offer gifts according to the law.” (Hebrews 8:4)

Back up a bit to the psalms and see what the psalmist had to say regarding the outward working of inward devotion:

“I will not reprove thee for thy sacrifices or thy burnt offerings, to have been continually before me. Offer unto God thanksgiving; and pay thy vows unto the most High. And call upon me in the day of trouble: I will deliver thee, and thou shalt glorify me.” (Psalm 50:8, 14-15)

It would seem the psalmist got an inside angle on what God is really like. Panentheism is where “God” is resident in all things. One conclusion you’ll draw if you follow this theology is that all things are sacrosanct as all things fall under the category of “God”. God is everywhere. Okay. This doesn’t sound too different from a simple explanation of who the Holy Spirit is. But you (or I) don’t just get to see the Holy Spirit without putting forth some effort in His direction. The Holy Spirit is invisible but He is indeed all around us. Continuing the passage begun at the top of the page:

“Who serve unto the example and shadow of heavenly things, as Moses was admonished of God when he was about to make the tabernacle: for, See, saith He, that thou make all things according to the pattern shewed thee in the mount.” (Hebrews 8:5, emphasis mine)

The author of Hebrews is seeking to point out that Christ lived in His body, all of the various and sundry symbolisms the Law of Moses created. There, in His flesh and blood, is the outworking of a heavenly pattern. And Jesus was not seen as the Christ by everyone while He walked this earth. God (in Christ) will show up where you least expect Him. This is because of an inherent strain of unbelief. He revealed Himself to Moses in a burning bush. He walked alongside two disciples making their way from Jerusalem to Emmaus and they didn’t know it was Him. One of the things God likes to do to His people is surprise them. Sure, it helps to be on the lookout to begin with. But the finer-tuned your perceptions may be, the more unique the visitation. Consider this:

“Clouds and darkness are round about Him…” (Psalm 97:2a)

What do you think of when you read this? Obscurity. That’s what it brings to mind. Shadows. Just because God shows up in ways we least expect–even in ways that may seem scary and terrifying while they’re happening–doesn’t mean it’s not Him. Thing is though, if you know the Lord, He certainly will surprise you but you will also have peace about the encounter. When once you think you’ve wrapped your mind around God, He will be sure and upset your (already outmoded) notions. But how does all this refer to idolatry? Here’s how: No physical object you come into contact with is going to do you any good if you don’t know the Lord already. With Jesus’s death and resurrection, the physical has taken a back seat to the spiritual. But now that the Lord has risen and reigns, physical objects are again holy.  Though not in a way that makes them venerable and worthy of worship.

The Spectrum of Idolatry part 3 Abstract Concepts

“Then went up Moses, and Aaron, Nadab, and Abihu, and seventy of the elders of Israel: And thy saw the God of Israel: and there was under His feet as it were a paved work of a sapphire stone, and as it were the body of heaven in his clearness. And upon the nobles of the children of Israel He laid not His hand: also they saw God, and did eat and drink.” (Exodus 24:9-11)

This, to me, is one of the most powerful passages in all the Bible. It’s as if all the mystery has been removed. God is standing there and life is good. We get to eat and drink and all the while, “He laid not His hand”. It would seem in the Old Testament that things were a tad more serious. The statement implying God wasn’t going to strike them dead for being so close. Evidently, they must’ve been there by invitation. And then David comes along and the image mentioned above begins to take shape:

“Thou hast beset me behind and before, and laid Thine hand upon me.” (Psalm 139:5)

Very simply speaking, I feel you can’t write something like that–sourced from an original thought, as it were–unless you’ve actually experienced it. And experienced it for yourself, I might add. Granted, we get ideas and we run with them and layer on them our own embellishments. But it can be hard to pin down exactly God’s features. You know you see Him, though, how else can I say it? Let me back up a bit here.

“No man hath seen God at any time. If we love one another, God dwelleth in us, and His love is perfected in us.” (1 John 4:12)

So, John writes again the same thing he declared in his gospel (1:18). I’m trying to wrap my mind around this evident contradiction. Perhaps if I checked the original versions, there may be a distinction of which I’m not aware. Maybe something in the Hebrew and Greek allows for me to accept how Moses was able to see Him and yet I can’t. Not with my eyeballs, anyway. Can I “see” with something other than my “eyes”? Waxing a tad pedantic, admittedly, I feel I should point out that there are indeed other ways of “seeing”. And it’s these places to which God points as I believe He wants to be seen.

“Philip saith unto Him, Lord, shew us the Father, and it sufficeth us. Jesus saith unto him, Have I been so long time with you, and yet hast thou not known me Philip? he that hath seen me hath seen the Father; and how sayest thou then, Shew us the Father?” (John 14:8-9)

To me, that’s the most ubiquitous question in the universe. “Why won’t God show Himself?” So either Jesus is crazy or He’s saying something around which we cannot wrap our minds unless we believe. When people talk about “God”, my opinion is that they are all referring to the same one. With God as “God”, it rules out any other religion’s pantheon as that very word indicates there is more than one. Jesus says a couple chapters prior that “[He] and the Father are one” (10:30). This replaces duality (and evident contradiction?) with unity. But the one statement is buttressed with the other. We can talk all around and about God all we want. According to Christ, however, we cannot then separate Him from God. If they’re one–and I want to “see” God–I cannot overlook Jesus. Talk about God. How He’s “the Creator”. The embodiment of “the universe”. But He’s revealed Himself to humans through Jesus. Any of the former ideologies and eidolon belief systems bereft of Jesus are essentially idolatry. Because we cannot see God except through the lens of Christ.

“Blessed are the pure in heart: for they shall see God.” (Matthew 5:8)

The Spectrum of Idolatry part 2 From Pillar to Post

“And when Asa heard these words, and the prophecy of Oded the prophet, he took courage, and put away the abominable idols out of all the land of Judah and Benjamin, and out of the cities which he had taken from mount Ephraim, and renewed the altar of the Lord, that was before the porch of the Lord.” (2 Chronicles 15:8)

Fast forward a few verses, through the formalities of what it takes to truly clear idolatry out of an entire culture, through the harsh punishments given to those who don’t comply, who aren’t inclined to “seek the Lord God of their fathers with all their heart and with all their soul;” (15:12), and we come upon this little afterthought (15:17):

“But the high places were not taken away out of Israel: nevertheless the heart of Asa was perfect all his days.”

Two, almost minor, details. The first of which goes against, it would seem, something Asa did at the beginning of his reign. The fifth verse of the prior chapter says Asa “took away out of all the cities of Judah the high places and the images”. If he already did this, evidently there were those who had endeavored to make the climb to reinstate another form of worship not directed to Jehovah. Okay (actually not okay). It then says that “the kingdom was quiet before him.” This little mention plays into our own life in a big way in the sense that if we don’t endeavor to keep the little things present before God, the very real victory He wins for us will slowly slip and attenuate and may perhaps be in danger of falling apart altogether. Paul says “a little leaven leaveneth the whole lump.” (Galatians 5:9) In other words, it doesn’t take much yeast to cause the loaf you’re baking to rise. If you’re called to eat “unleavened bread” (figuratively, as were the Israelites literally: Exodus 12:8) then the high places must go, too. They must be cut down. But here’s the second point.

“He maketh wars to cease unto the end of the earth; He breaketh the bow, and cutteth the spear in sunder; He burneth the chariot in the fire. Be still and know that I am God: I will be exalted among the heathen, I will be exalted in the earth.” (Psalm 46:9-10)

So God has just given you a victory. You went through an amazing season, a series of struggles and trials that threatened to quash your soul. But you persevered with His help and now look at you! Is it what you expect? You knew it was coming and now it’s here. Are you disappointed with the “spoil”, so to speak? In God’s wisdom, He doesn’t always do exactly what we expect in the timeframe we expect because we wouldn’t still feel inclined to continue to seek Him, perhaps. I find that, rather than fix my circumstances and the settings that caused such, sometimes the trials only come to build up my spirit and soul in ways that I never knew needed strengthening. The above passage from Psalms speaks to the right perspective on the victory God gives. And also what is important through it all: stillness. Asa’s kingdom was “quiet before him.” We must revel in this. Maintain that sanctity of holiness in which God’s presence now dwells by the Holy Spirit. Maybe not much has changed on the outside, but you see it with fresh eyes and a renewed sense of purpose. You will vault over what struggles still await (you know this now) but take a little time and, as it says, be still. And after some prayer and thanksgiving, get to work on those “high places”. Your heart is right before God.

“For who is God save the Lord? or who is a rock save our God? It is God that girdeth me with strength, and maketh my way perfect. He maketh my feet like hinds feet, and setteth me upon my high places.” (Psalm 18:31-33)

The Spectrum of Idolatry part 1 On One Hand

“Now for a long season Israel hath been without the true God, and without a teaching priest, and without law. But when they in their trouble did turn unto the Lord God of Israel, and sought Him, He was found of them.” (2 Chronicles 15:3-4)

Let me just start by saying that we, in the era of the New Covenant, enjoy this privilege bereft of the actual disconnect, because of the Lord Jesus and facilitated through the Holy Spirit. But it would seem we’re at a place not too different from what is described in the first verse of the above passage. Because there are times when it feels as if there is no God (let alone the “true” God) and that there’s no need for any of the aforementioned “teaching priest” or “the law”. A sea of subjectivity greets us at every turn and we are hard-pressed to make sense and meaning of all the dilution we feel. Forgive me for prescribing this condition thus. I feel it fits though.

Off-handed, off-footing

“And when they arose early on the morrow morning, behold, Dagon was fallen upon his face to the ground before the ark of the Lord; and the head of Dagon and both the palms of his hands were cut off upon the threshold; only the stump of Dagon was left to him.” (1 Samuel 5:4)

Idolatry can be a hard thing to pin down. Because without a true glimpse (essentially an image) of God from which to work, you don’t really know the thing you’re looking at isn’t God. “Thou shalt have none other gods before me.” (Deuteronomy 5:7) says God through Moses. Couple this with Jesus’s reprimand of “get thee behind me Satan: for it is written, Thou shalt worship the Lord thy God, and him only shalt thou serve.” (Luke 4:8), it would seem that anything other than Jesus, no matter how impressive or holy-looking, will lead you away from Him. The above passage speaks of a time when the Ark of the Covenant had been taken from the Israelites and was holed up at the temple of the Philistine god Dagon. Dagon was a god of fertility, represented in symbol by grain but by statue of what might be akin to a bearded merman. So powerful was the presence of God (“the true God”) that the statue of Dagon fell apart overnight. The correlation for us in these times plays in to the passage at the top of the page.

Offsetting, Off-putting

“But sanctify the Lord God in your hearts: and be ready always to give an answer to every man that asketh you a reason of the hope that is in you with meekness and fear.” (1 Peter 3:15)

“Sanctify the Lord of hosts Himself; and let Him be your fear, and let Him be your dread.” (Isaiah 8:13)

“And fear not them which kill the body, but are not able to kill the soul: but rather fear Him which is able to destroy both soul and body in hell.” (Matthew 10:28)

The idea behind this proof-text is that God the Father is the one with whom we have to do. The one around which we orient our feelings. Be it “hope” or “fear” and the spectrums of both. Granted, we must work through fear when approaching God but we have the promise of something better from which we launch. When it says in Peter to “sanctify the Lord God in your hearts”, it means bring Him into each and every and the innermost chambers of your heart. Don’t worry about clearing out the traces of your old life without acknowledging God first. He will shatter our illusions and any other gods that reside within.