Knowing our true Self opens the way to spiritual maturity and provides the template for understanding when, what, and why something has become an idol
Jiggle the Idol
When God lets our lives be rocked, what do you and I see toppling?
What do we rush to prop up, or protect?
Who do we feel we must shield?
Where do we turn to, who do we turn to, to find stability?
All those questions can start the process of self-searching that can help uncover whatever it is the Lord is allowing to become dislodged in some way.
- Perhaps there is something, or someone, who has become more important than is healthy, emotionally and spiritually. That happened to Abraham, and God called him out on it.
- Perhaps there is something we are telling ourselves we just have to have. God took David to task on taking what was not his.
- There might be something interfering with our walk by faith. That was the key to Saul’s downfall.
To jiggle the idol is to get a very strong reaction.
Think about the following emotions:
- You are angry because you are being blocked from having something you feel you is a necessity.
- You are fearful or badly worried because something is being threatened which you feel is a necessity.
- You are despondent or hating yourself because you have lost something or failed at something you feel is a necessity.
The key warning of possible idolatry is that at the point where loyalty to any thing or any person leads someone to transgress God’s word or way, then that someone is in danger of making the thing, or the person, an idol.
And so often for the person who is unselfaware, that thing or person is actually the Self.
Throw Away the Idol
So, the idols-and-sin sermons will typically cry “repent” at this stage, and of course repentance is a great first step. And, to be fair, that is where Isaiah goes (in a way).
And so people are humbled,Isaiah 2:9 (NRSV)
and everyone is brought low—
The last line (which I did not quote) sounds like Isaiah crying out to God not to forgive those who have been brought low. For many more verses, Isaiah describes the terror of those who have been worshipping idols then suddenly, it seems, realize God is real.
Enter into the rock,Isaiah 2:10-11 (NRSV)
and hide in the dust
from the terror of the Lord,
and from the glory of his majesty.
The haughty eyes of people shall be brought low,
and the pride of everyone shall be humbled;
and the Lord alone will be exalted on that day.
For the rest of the chapter, Isaiah speaks of a day when the Lord will come in judgment, the regular refrain interspersed throughout as the last three lines in the passage above.
On that day people will throw awayIsaiah 2:20-21 (NRSV)
to the moles and to the bats
their idols of silver and their idols of gold,
which they made for themselves to worship,
to enter the caverns of the rocks
and the clefts in the crags,
from the terror of the Lord,
and from the glory of his majesty,
when he rises to terrify the earth.
But that is where this chapter ends, with people cowering in terror, crouched in caves, quailing in caverns, crimped and crinkled in the clefts and crags. Poetically panic-stricken, but no better off for having rid themselves of their idols.
Because turning from an idol, repudiating it, is too simplistic an antidote.
Antidote to Idolatry
For one thing, many times an idol is in itself good, and to have that good in our lives is also good. People have tried to strip their lives of anything lovely and gone even so far as to mortify themselves with self-punishments and austere measures.
But even self-flagellation can become an idol.
Love for an idol can only be replaced by love for something else that is richer and more satisfying. And confidence in an idol can only be displaced by an even stronger confidence in something else.
The idol is the lesser good which becomes—once idolized—the counterfeit good.
The antidote to idolatry is to deeply embrace what it means to love God, to know God, and to be known by God, loved and blessed by God, to belong to God as God’s precious and beloved one.
But to get there, to even get what getting there means, you and I need to become aware of our Self. Maybe you have already experienced loving someone who does not respond to your love. That person does not believe you love them, or they do not value the love you have for them, or perhaps they feel unworthy of your love, so refuse to receive what you so freely offer.
So it is with you and me, and God.
Because, if we are to believe anything at all in the scriptures, then we must begin with how God describes God’s own Self, and God’s love for us. If we can really believe it, then we have a chance of learning how to receive it. (if you are thinking you maybe need to stop studying Isaiah with me, and start studying God’s love, please consider reading through 1 John with me. That letter changed my whole life.)
It is certainly a riskier prospect.
God cannot be managed in the way an idol gives the impression of being managed. God does not give the kind of guarantees of satisfaction that we think idols can deliver.
But, to be filled anew with God’s glorious grace, to count on God’s lavish love, to operate in the power of the Holy Spirit, and to trust God’s guidance is to live in real reality, not the artificial reality idols occupy.
The antidote to trusting in an idol is to know and trust in God. Again, a completely risky move, because we already know God is willing to allow disruption and suffering in the lives of God’s people. And if you and I are already struggling with an idol here or there, it is because we believe at some level the idol is going to protect us from disruption and suffering in some way.
And this is also an impossible chasm to cross until we become profoundly self-aware, when we know what we truly fear, deep down, what we keep sacrosanct, what we absolutely do not want God to disrupt in any way.
And—terror of all terrors, because that idol did not become worship-worthy in our hearts overnight—God doing right by us may hurt. God’s righteousness may mean taking away the idol altogether, rather than disciplining us to learn how to live rightly with that good thing, or good person.
If that happens, it will feel like God ripping away the one thing we are certain we really need. But in the end, choosing to trust God means trusting God loves us, and is not only able to, but intends to, give us the best.
Judgment on Idolatry
Isaiah’s second chapter drives home the truth that the judgment on idolatry is to bring the idolater low. This is the shaking of the Self so that Self-centeredness is replaced by God-centeredness.
Because life is uncertain, we all want to bring security and stability into our lives. That is our human nature. When you and I feel insecure, we search for ways to control others and our environment, to make things feel safe and secure.
But being brought low wakes you and me up to the truth that the only true stability and security is found in God.
So, in the sense of the famous serenity prayer:
- I do what I can, what I am responsible to do.
- I also concentrate on remaining open and cooperative with God.
- Instead of trying to control others, I trust that control to God.
And trust that God is at work.