[This post is part of the Idolatry series]
I’m not sure if the delay in writing this particular entry was due to the subject matter or just because I’m a little rusty on writing anything besides Hebrew exegetical papers.
It’s hard to say, but thankfully, though I thoroughly enjoyed the class, Hebrew 3 is over and I’m officially on summer break.
And getting married in a few weeks to the loveliest and most beautiful best friend a guy could ask for is a much added bonus too of course!
So, we have our work cut out for us if I’m going to go anywhere with this mini-series before I completely check out for the honeymoon (which will be a feat itself).
How about a few vignettes to warm up?
Names are selected in a purely arbitrary manner (i.e. trolling the Yahoo.com sports page).
Shane is driven. Every morning, he is a fixture at the local gym, getting his workout in before most people even wake up. From there its off to work via Starbucks and he routinely puts in 10+ hour days before heading back to his uptown apartment. He is rising fast within his organization and is committed to embodying a “whatever it takes to get the job done right” mentality which makes him a favorite among upper management. He is young, single, perfectly sculpted, and is set to make millions one day if he keeps on the track he’s on. When he looks in the mirror at night before heading to bed, he can’t help but smile. Yet at the same time, he can’t seem to develop quality relationships beyond the superficial work contacts he has. Excelling so much everywhere else, what’s holding him back here?
Nicole adores her son Austin. As a single mom, she raised him after the man she knew she was going to marry walked out on her after finding out she was pregnant. They have always shared a special bond and she made many sacrifices so that Austin could flourish even if his father wanted no part of his life. Recently though, Austin finally graduated high school and with the full-ride athletic scholarship he earned taking him out of state, Nicole is slowly starting to unravel at the thought of losing him once he leaves the home. She’s worked so hard to raise him right, what if all that falls to ruin?
Martin loves theology. Maybe even more accurately, Martin loves knowledge and after coming to Christ, his love of knowledge starting becoming sanctified, just like the rest of him. He spends of most his time studying and digging through theology books and the works of major theologian and philosophers. He’s even looking at pursuing his masters in theology rather than further studies in his undergrad field of business. It is usually easy for Martin to justify the amount of time he spends buried in the books because after all, he is learning about God and His word. With the mind that God has blessed him with, why should Martin take away from the fruit he gains in the study in order to do something menial like hang out with friends, or talk to his neighbors?
Nate is usually calm and mild mannered, rarely displaying any emotion. It is both a strength and weakness. What does tend to evoke emotion though is technology and occasionally inanimate objects, specifically when they do not co-operate with him. Never one to get visibly or audibly angry with another person, his laptop has heard quite the streams of profanity from time to time when it malfunctions as well as other technological items around the apartment. And although name calling is not something he usually engages in with other people, it is somehow easier when they are encased in a metal womb and have just cut him off in traffic or done some other similarly foolish road maneuver. Why the ability to manage emotions everywhere else except in lapses of convenience?
These stories will be commented on later on as we develop our ideas, but for now they serve as a starting point and a way to get one thinking how they will relate to the topic at hand. You might notice that the Nate in the last example is me. I included myself because with the charge I’ll be leveling against everyone that reads this blog, I need to make it clear that I am no different than anyone else and I struggle just the same. I may be the messenger in this situation bringing news of a pandemic running its course, but I’m infected as well.
All of the above examples, while fictional, are pointing to an underlying root problem that is simply manifesting itself in different ways. Not only in the above examples, but given any problem, this is the underlying cause. Some may already see this as pointing toward an answer of “Sin” as the underlying problem.
Well yes and no. Yes, because that is true, we are all sinners by nature and sin either by specific acts or suffer the effects of the disease infects us and taints everything we do. But no, because we are looking at what the more specific form of sin in question is. To posit “Sin” is to remain to vague and undefined. What we are positing here is just as pervasive, but more concrete, and a bit easier to capture in a word picture.
The problem is idolatry.
The word picture is adultery.
I would assume most of us are unaware of idolatry’s pervasive treatment in the Bible, but according to some it is the central theological principle of the Old Testament (Halbertal, Moshe and Avishai Margalit, Idolatry, 10). A thoughtful reading of the text readily supports their conclusion, however there still remains a disconnect between the Bible’s treatment of idolatry and our understanding and application of it. To that end, this series of essays will work to connect the dots.
We’ll save the more thought provoking discussion on the nature of idolatry until a later post, after establishing that it is indeed something inescapable for everyone, not just the pagans in the Ancient Near East or the tribes in the Amazon rain forest.
For now, we’ll simply close with another portrait if you will.
As most may know, over the better part of the last year I’ve been in a long distance relationship. Ali and I started dating in October (briefly) before getting engaged over Christmas break. So for the last semester of school, we have both been living with the heart intent of marrying the other. This has left us in a state of living as if married in principle but not yet entirely in practice (i.e. no physical union or other aspects of actual married life). On August 1st, the heart attitudes we have been living out will become reality and we will be married in both principle and practice; both legally and spiritually. In the meantime, it very much leaves us in an already/not yet sort of state. This is exacerbated by the fact we live in separate time zones and do not see each other that often.
Now suppose (and I should stress suppose, for from here on out everything is fictional), that in the meantime, with the absence of either my physical presence or physical union, Ali gradually moves toward satisfying those desires elsewhere. She starts going out on the weekends, hanging out at bars, the proverbially, “window shopping, but not buying.” Without being able to see me, she can at least see other guys, right? In her mind, she is no less committed to me, but she is supplementing what she has in relationship with me with starting to see other guys, which inevitably leads to seeing other guys.
Eventually what started as going out to just be with other guys leads to actually being with other guys. Now she is going out on the weekends looking for physical pleasures and comforts. What started innocently enough has now progressed to open sexual advances, she’s not content to even wait around for guys to show interest, she actively seeks out the most desirable and uses her resources to secure what she wants.
At first, none of this interferes with our relationship. We continue talking daily and still maintain the level of verbal and relational intimacy we were able to maintain even while apart. Going out occasionally never interfered with that. But now, she leaves work to meet up with random guys she met while out late the night before to continue ruffling the sheets where they left off. She becomes increasing hard to get a hold of and doesn’t return calls as eagerly as she used to.
Some of her friends have an idea of what is going on (though not to the full extent) and try to talk to her about it. But when confronted, Ali profess her love and commitment to me and reminisces about the story of our engagement while admiring her ring. They encourage her to seek help, but she can’t even see what the problem is, she is still thrilled to marry me and still faithful in her mind. She rationalizes that I would understand that she has needs that must be met and I would meet them if I were here, but since I’m not, I would understand.
Eventually though, she becomes too calloused to even pretend there still remains a joy in one day being with me. She is still committed to get married, but because she is wary of the financial burdens she might bring to the marriage she has taken a second job capitalizing on her new found awareness of her ability to seduce and pleasure men of all sorts. Her infidelity has now become a profession, yet all the while she still tells me of her love for her, still reads my letters, still thinks of me, but in the meantime, her heart remains far from me.
What would you think of Ali in this story? Several words probably spring to your mind, none of them flattering. Before we judge her in this story, much like Nathan told King David, it needs to be pointed out that we are just like her in a spiritual sense. We are in various stages of adultery, whether in the actual progression itself, or in the casual infidelities we commit on a daily basis.
As we are members of the Church, and the Church is the Bride of Christ, we are to be faithful to Him as a Bride would be to her husband. Because the category of marriage is evoked in the Bible to describe our relationship with God, the categories of adultery and whoredom are used to describe our lack of total faithfulness.
Some of us are otherwise fully committed to Christ and only because we are finite and fallen do we commit casual infidelity against our Husband.
Others though are full blown spiritual prostitutes, with hearts far from God and willing to spread their legs to receive the pleasures of this world at a moments notice, all the while still maintaining lip service acknowledgments of a relationship with God and a few outward resemblances of faithfulness.
Most of us though, probably fall somewhere in between, with idols of the heart that remain in our blind spot and keep us harboring the illusion that we are fully committed to Christ when in fact we casually sleeping around on Him and cannot even see the problem. Our testimonies have either a hollow ring to them, or we over-spiritualize everything to compensate for the lack of actual vitality in our communion with the Triune God.
What we need though is the Gospel to penetrate our hearts and minds and to see our total dependence on God for growing in holiness and realize that as Calvin (who was born 500 years ago today, by the way) pointed out, that our minds our idol factories, but we worship a God who saves people from idolatry (see Calvin’s Institutes). It is only as we realize the problem, that the full weight of the solution makes sense. To that end, we’ll explore further in the next post.