(This blog is a preview of this weekend’s message on rcwestminster.com.)
Earlier yesterday afternoon, I heard one of my favorite sounds: thunder. Now, I’ve been scared silly by being too close to a lightning strike, but when you’re at a safe distance, thunder is a beautiful, awesome sound. My Hebrew Prayer book calls God’s people to recite this prayer upon hearing thunder: “Blessed are you Lord God, King of the Universe, whose strength and power fill the world.”
What a wonderful prayer to bring God into focus in your life. It’s a reminder, especially for people in an agricultural, pastoral economy like the early Israelites, to trust God for everything we need.
Problem is, we don’t. As easily as falling off a log, we create idols for that purpose. Why? Calvin said the human heart is an idol-factory. We don’t mean to be quite so pagan (usually), we just like hedging our bets, adding insurance for the meeting of our most basic needs. That, plus, our rebellious hearts don’t really want to believe that God is so good and faithful. We’d rather work it out for ourselves. What our our basic needs?
Significance – to know that we matter, we’re important, we’re valued
Security – in a world of uncertainty, to know that are safe, the world (and we) are being held together, that we’ll be okay
Love – to experience the deep love that all other loves point to, including the need for forgiveness
Happiness – to experience the pleasure and joy we are wired for in our bodies, minds, and souls
So we naturally create idols – not by carving statues, but usually by elevating good things (possessions, sports, political involvement – even church and family, and a million other things) to the status in our lives that is reserved only for God. We come to believe, one half-thought at a time, that these things will meet the basic needs in our lives. (And in the process, we take all the fun out of God’s good gifts, meant to be enjoyed freely.)
But idols are harsh taskmasters. Novelist David Foster Wallace, before he took his own life, wrote that “Whatever you worship will consume you.” You will never live up to it. If you set something up to be your savior, to meet your deepest needs, it will require continual and ever-greater sacrifices. If you fail it, it will make you pay dearly. And it will eventually break your heart.
But Jesus, God’s answer to our idolatry, is different. According to J.D. Greear (channeling Tim Keller):
If you fail an idol, it will make you pay. But in the gospel Jesus says to us, “You did fail me. But instead of destroying you, I’ll let myself be destroyed for you. Instead of demanding a sacrifice, I will become a sacrifice for you.” In Jesus, unlike idols, we find the only God that – when we obtain him – will satisfy us, and – when we fail him – will forgive us. (“5 Insights into Idolatry,” JDGreear.com)
So when we confront our idols (which should be often), perhaps we should pray something like this: “Blessed are you Lord Jesus Christ, King of Kings, whose love and mercy fulfill my life.”
Bob Jacobs is Pastor of Westminster Church, Rapid City. Check out his personal blog at www.brittlecrazyglass.wordpress.com.