Friday, April 22, 2011

The Cross and Idolatry

In the Old Testament Scriptures idols of gold, wood and stone are the
ultimate cause of Israel's spiritual adultery. The fall of Israel as a nation
resulted primarily in their syncretism, setting up rival idols in the temple
of Jerusalem as objects of worship equally valid as the living God, Yahweh.
What was tragic about Israel's false worship is that the nation turned from a
God who spoke and redeemed them from slavery to a plethora of gods who
remained silent, as Psalm 115 teaches:


They have mouths, but cannot speak, eyes, but they cannot see; they have ears, but cannot hear, noses, but they cannot smell; they have hands, but cannot feel, feet, but they cannot walk; nor can they utter a sound with their throats. Those who make them will be like them, and so will all who trust in them.

Elijah's challenge to the prophets of Baal on Mount Hermon aptly
demonstrates this point. Both Elijah and the prophets of Baal make
offerings to their God. But while Elijah's sacrifice to "the God of Abraham,
Isaac and Israel" is accepted and burned up with the "fire of the Lord",
Baal makes a no-show:

1 Kings 26-29

Then they called on the name of Baal from morning till noon.
"O Baal, answer us!" they shouted. But there was no response;
no one answered. And they danced around the altar they had made.
At noon Elijah began to taunt them. "Shout louder!" he said. "Surely
he is a god! Perhaps he is deep in thought, or busy, or travelling.
Maybe he is sleeping and must be awakened." So they shouted louder
and slashed themselves with swords and spears, as was their custom,
until they blood flowed. Midday passed, and they continued their frantic
prophesying until the time for the evening sacrifice. But there was no
response, no one answered, no one paid attention.

Elijah was looking to God to save, to restore Israel's hearts back to true
worship. The prophets of Baal were relying on idols that do not save to
the point of uncontrollable self-flagellation and frantic religious activity
trusting that this would appease their idol. Today we may not worship
idols made of wood and stone, but like Baal they have no power to save us,
but rather promise much and ultimately deceive us. Tim Keller writes:

God should be our true Spouse, but when we desire and delight
in other things more than God we commit spiritual adultery. Romance
or success can become "false lovers" that promise to make us feel
loved and valued. Idols capture our imagination, and we can locate them
by looking at our daydreams. What do we enjoy imagining? What are our
fondest dreams? We look to our idols to love us, to provide us with value
and a sense of beauty, significance and worth.

The Bible often speaks of idols using the religious metaphor. God should
be our true Saviour, but we look to personal achievement or financial
prosperity to give us the peace and security we need. Idols give us a sense
of being in control, and we can locate them by looking at our nightmares.
What do we fear the most? What, if we lost it, would make life not
worth living? We make "sacrifices" to appease and please our gods, who we
believe will protect us. We look to our idols to provide us with a sense
of confidence and safety.

(Counterfeit Gods, pp. xxi-xxiii)

When we become too heavily dependent on the false saviours of love,
money and power for our happiness and satisfaction, we let them
control our emotions. Deprived of the fulfillment they seem to offer,
we leave ourselves open to the spiritual attacks of depression, anxiety,
despair and unbelief that comes from "taking some incomplete joy
of this world and building your entire life on it"
(Keller, Counterfeit Gods xi.)
What we need most of all is a Saviour who offers true salvation, who speaks
it into human history when all other idols and false substitutes fail to deliver
the goods. What we need is the true and complete joy that comes from
knowing our sins are forgiven and that our idolatry is no longer counted
against us, but was judged on the cross by the atoning sacrifice of Jesus Christ.

Hebrews 9: 14

How much more, then, will the blood of Christ, who through
the eternal Spirit offered himself unblemished to God, cleanse
our consciences from acts that lead to death, so that we may
serve the living God!

Freed from the sense of failure that the loss of an idol brings,
the cross provides freedom in knowing that my standing with God
isn't dependent on my success or failure. While our idols declare
us to be losers when we don't satisfy their demands, the cross stands
over us and declares us to be righteous, offering sabbath-rest
in the blood of Christ which frees us from guilt and condemnation.
No mute idol can offer the security and confidence we have in Christ,
which is not some temporary hope but is a living water bubbling up
to eternal life; while all idols and their worshippers will burned up
in fire:

Jeremiah 51:47

For the time will surely come
when I will punish the idols of Babylon;
her whole land will be disgraced
and her slain will all lie fallen within her.

In the name of Christ. Amen.

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1 comment:

  1. Thank you St Martin for this post. Very good law and Gospel distinction. God's peace. †