“I notice a strong culture of idolatry in American …”
How would you complete that sentence? And if you had to guess who said it (teacher, politician, preacher, theologian, etc …), who would it be?
Idolatry is putting anything in the place of God that isn’t God. It is a persistent characteristic of the problem that existed in the Jewish Scriptures. People were always offering sacrifices to a bull or calf or some other statue. This coming Sunday we are going to hear the story of Paul when he was in Athens. As Paul looked around the city, filled with statues, he became so upset by the prevalence of these idols that he had a paroxysm – a visceral emotional response that filled him with anger. When Eugene Peterson paraphrases the verse that describes Paul’s reaction in Acts 17:16, he writes that Paul’s anger arose from his being in a city that was a “junkyard of idols”. (The Message.)
But maybe there is another way to understand just how destructive and dangerous our idols can be. The quote above is from Monica Byrne, an author and playwright. This is what she said: “I notice a strong culture of idolatry in American literature that restricts writers’ sense of possibility for themselves—as if their idols produce nothing but genius unapproachable work; and also, as if it’s not even conceivable they could ever be as good.”
Some would say that idolatry is a “form of self-worship”. Byrne suggests that idolatry can be a form of self-loathing – or at least, self-limiting. Our “idols” can be people we look up to or qualities we aspire to but have convinced ourselves we are unworthy or incapable of attaining.
Maybe one way to think about “idolatry” is that it’s like sitting in your car with your foot on the accelerator – but never shifting out of neutral. Life can make us afraid to “put it in gear”. Did Paul’s anger over the idolatry he witnessed in Athens rise out of a sense that the lifeless statues were not only keeping the people separated from God; they were sucking the life out of the Athenians’ own spiritual, emotional and physical potential as well?
Today, look around for the “idols” that have become part of your life. Maybe there are things that are keeping you not only from a deeper relationship with God, but from living the abundant life God wants for you. Wasn’t it this same Paul who proclaimed that he “could do all things through Christ “? (Philippians 4:13.) When we are tapped in to the source of true strength, we become capable of so much more than any “idol” can promise us.
A blessed Tuesday.