Sunday, September 18, 2011

Idolize: To Love or Admire to Excess

Therefore, my dearly beloved, shun (keep clear away from, avoid by flight if need be) any sort of idolatry (of loving or venerating anything more than God).            1 Corinthians 10:14 AMP

“My future husband was becoming to me my whole world; and more than the world: almost my hope of heaven. He stood between me and every thought of religion, as an eclipse intervenes between man and the broad sun. I could not, in those days, see God for his creature: of whom I had made an idol.”

(Jane speaking of Mr. Rochester in Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte)

“. . . I was very sad for Hindley’s sake; he had room in his heart only for two idols—his wife and himself: he doted on both, and adored one, and I couldn’t conceive how he would bear the loss.”

(Ellen Dean speaking of Hindley in Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte)

Idolatry is a tough topic. It is not the first sin I tend to confess, when I sense my spiritual life is suffering. It’s easy enough to admit pride or telling a lie, but I do not want to be identified as an idolater. And it is even dangerous to mention this because some may argue with me that a true follower of Christ cannot be an idolater. However, I am not talking about a lifestyle of idolatry. I am referring to a tendency of mine to place more affection on other people, other things and even on my own need for comfort and contentment than on God.

In my literary “travels” this semester, I keep coming across narratives that point out the downfall of idolatry is a person’s life. Jane Eyre admits that her love for Mr. Rochester has consumed her to the point she neglects God. Hindley, one character in Wuthering Heights, so idolizes his wife that after her death, he neglects his son, his estate and his own well-being by choosing a life of dissipation. Wuthering Heights is a case study for the demise of those who idolize others. Heathcliff resents everyone because he can’t have his idol. Edgar won’t confront Catherine, after she becomes his wife, which I believe is a direct result of his fear of offending the woman he idolizes. Those are just the major examples of idolatry in the novel. In some of my other readings, people become so consumed with the beauty of another character that they miss out on a healthy relationship with the person.

I understand their dilemma—the physical presence of perceived perfection in another person eases my ache for something that will completely satisfy. From the beginning God commanded us not to partake in idolatry. It is interesting that one of the Hebrew words for idol can mean “worthless” (Mounce). Anything that takes our affection from God is worthless. Even if it seems that the person, thing or achievement gives us a fleeting sense of value, in the end it will disappoint. God is the only one who keeps his promise to always satisfy.

Early in our marriage I did idolize my husband, and when we were separated for seven months due to his military service, I was devastated. I literally couldn’t function. My mom came to live with me to help me with our son, and I sought counsel and support from other believers. It was in Les' absence that I realized that I had placed my hope in a man, rather than in God. Let me say something else here, the person we idolize is under immense pressure to live up to our expectations. Putting them on a pedestal sets them up for a fall, because they are incapable of loving us exactly like God.

Idolatry is subtle, and can manifest itself in many forms. It occurred to me the other day that sometimes my concern for others can become idolatrous, especially when I think I can offer them the kind of help only God can. I am neither all-powerful, nor ever-present, and it is foolish for me to act like I can offer that kind of relationship to another person. Yet I find myself doing this over and over again, until God humbles me, and shows me that I have become actually quite arrogant in thinking that I can “fix” someone else. And even more insidiously, I believe they need my help, and I’m the only one who can offer it. This is painful to admit, but a relief when God gently rebukes me, and reminds me of my limits.

Lest this become a depressing topic, may I invite you to flee idolatry in order to pursue God. He, like the father waiting for his prodigal son, waits each day for us to realize our blunder and to run home to Him.

I'll leave you with a quote speaking of our essential need for God in our lives: “All eternity is held in one moment in Your presence, and all of time is empty apart from Your fellowship.” (Frances J. Roberts)

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Direct (Adj.): Frank; Straight-Forward

“Search me, O God, and know my heart;
test me and know my thoughts.

Point out anything in me that offends you,
and lead me along the path of everlasting life.”
                                                         Psalm 139:23-24 NLT

“Restate to yourself what the purpose of your life is. The destined end of man is not happiness, nor health, but holiness.”                        
                                      Oswald Chambers, My Utmost for His Highest

As each new season approaches, I find myself musing about the direction of my life. Am I headed in the right direction? Do I need to make any adjustments? I ask God to direct my paths, as he promises he will in the Psalms and Proverbs. One of my objectives in seeking direction contains an element of needing the definition of what my life could look like if I were in line with God’s will.

One place I look for definitions is in my dictionary. One morning before the new school year started, I was thinking about whether my life was on the grid of God’s will. (A friend had shared this concept, and I was plumbing the depths of the metaphor). The word “grid” was fairly straight forward in its definition—“vertical and horizontal lines evenly spaced”. Not really the inspirational meaning I was looking for, so I flipped back to the definition of direct. The first entry was its verb usage, which offered this definition: “address; cause to move or follow a certain course; show (someone) the way”; all common meanings that I had mulled over before. But this time I went a little further and found the adjective usage of the word, which was “frank or straight-forward”. In that moment, my heart did a flip from my usual begging for clarity in reference to my life course to asking for God to be direct with me.

I no longer just wanted him to tell me what to do with my life, but I wanted him to look into my heart and redirect its course. Is there anything in my heart that hinders God’s will for my life? Does he see any hurtful ways that I relate to others? It was a bit frightening at first to ask these questions, but after a while I saw the freedom that comes from directness. Who wouldn’t rather that others be direct and frank with them, especially if there is something amiss in our appearance? Even more, I want to know if I am being a jerk.

My new approach to prayer will be to ask God to be frank with me, as the psalmist prayed, “Point out my sinfulness.” Not so I can squirm under scrutiny, but so I can be free from insulting God and hurting others.

“Now may the Lord direct your hearts into the love of God and into the patience of Christ.”
                                                                                                                 2 Thessalonians 3:5 NKJV