Monday, September 3, 2007

The Folly of Idolatry

I have devoted this blog to the subject of marriage. I have often thought of starting another blog where I could collect my thoughts on various subjects that interest me (and there are many!). However, this blog is where I collect my ramblings about the profound mystery that is marriage. In saying that, I'm not saying that I don't deal with any number of other issues. Marriage is a big part of life, and many topics feed into it, or flow from it. Take idolatry for instance. Believe it or not, marriage cannot accomplish its purposes without an understanding of idolatry.

What is idolatry? Idolatry is the worship of a false god. Idolatry can be directed toward a god of our own making, or toward a god of someone else's making. It doesn't matter who creates the god. What matters is that the god is created. Rather than submitting to the God who is, idolatry creates a god that isn't.

Why do people practice idolatry? Idolatry is rampant because within all human beings is the desire to rule themselves. People do not like submitting to the authority of someone else. Even God. Instead, people construct for themselves gods they think they can control. People want the benefit of a god without the bossiness. The obvious problem with this is that a god lacking the ability to boss also lacks the ability to benefit, leaving people with the dilemma of forever striving to benefit themselves. That's what I want to zoom in on in this post.

"All who fashion idols are nothing, and the things they delight in do not profit" (Isaiah44:9). There are at least two things to observe about idols from this verse. First, idols are created in order to delight someone. People worship that which brings them delight. Second, while people think their idols will bring them delight, they provide no profit. Isaiah points out the folly of idolatry by pointing to their utter lack of ability to bless. God is sovereign over all creation. When God decides to bless, he has the ability to move Heaven and earth to bring it about. God is good. And sovereign. That combination is precious to those who know him.

Isaiah makes a similar point in chapter 41. "Tell us what is to come hereafter, that we may kow that you are gods; do good, or harm, that we may be dismayed and terrified. Behold, you are nothing; an abomination is he who chooses you" (Is. 41d:23-24). Notice here that idols lack the characteristics we would expect from God. Isaiah is full of God's omniscience. God tells his people beforehand what is going to take place so that they know he has the sovereign control to bring it about. Not so with idols. Idols are nothing. Of course, they're something. They're just not anything like God. Isaiah taunts the makers of idols. Idols can't do good. They can't do harm. They can't do anything, because the only power they have is the power their worshipers ascribe to them. Isaiah says those who choose idols over God are an abomination and nothing - like the idols they serve.

God is the Fountain of life. The only one. There is no other who has the power and the desire to save and bless. God alone is able. God alone is willing. The Bible is full of examples of people who foolishly worship lesser things than the One who is worthy of worship. The One who is worthy of worship is the One truly able to offer delight. God alone.

Marriage has the potential to be an idol. A spouse is not a god. Yet many ascribe to their spouse characteristics of the one true God. People bring their desires to their spouse. They bring their fears to their spouse. They bring their cravings. They bring their submission. They bring their hope. They bring their love. They bring their devotion. They bring their praise. They bring their lives.

Of course people don't just offer up all these things for free. These things comes with a price tag. There is a weight to all that baggage. When we lay ourselves at the feet of our spouse, we're going to expect a blessing in return. Like Jacob in Genesis, we grasp our spouse and demand a blessing. "I've given my life to you. The least you could do is..." "How could you treat me this way after all I've done for you?" "I can't win in this relationship. I'm just not happy anymore." "Where were you? I've been worried sick." "Why did you look at her that way?" "I love you. Why don't you love me back?"

We can see the worship-like language in those rather common sentences. Perhaps we've spoken such things to our spouse, or heard someone else we know. When our marriage is an idol, we will expect it to deliver what only God can. And when our spouse cannot deliver, we wonder why. Could it be that only God can carry that load? Only God can carry the weight of our hope. Only he is sovereign. Only he is the Fountain of life, able to overflow with blessings without being needy. It grieves me to see so many couples worshiping their spouses. It makes for unhappy marriages. It steals glory from the true God. It is folly to delight in something that does not profit. Any profit that marriage can deliver will only come from the hand of the God who ordains it. And that profit will only come when our marriage isn't a competitor with God, but a servant of God.

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