The Gods We Make
By David Desforge
Can you identify your idols? Would it make any difference?
Idolatry has become a more popular theme in churches. But I find even believers have trouble really owning it for themselves. While I work with the topic a lot, I too struggle to apply it consistently. However, it has a powerful impact when I do.
As we build friendships with scholars from all over the world who have interest in Christianity, it has provided a unique peek into the human heart. This year we will have 10 or so in our home for Christmas Day lunch. Most of them have little to no knowledge of the Bible, Jesus or Christmas. They are among the brightest future leaders of their countries. And, as we’ve gotten to know them and scores of others, it’s incredible how similar we all are. They dream the same kind of dreams, carry the same sort of pain, seek similar goals and have familiar defects and temptations. We also share the same idols.
One of the Bible studies we offered last semester explored the theme of idolatry. Some scholars have a religious heritage. And those from Hindu and Buddhist backgrounds sometimes have experience with actual statues and images, although they say it’s more cultural than faith. But most everyone describes themselves as ethical atheists.
Our study explained that idolatry is really about what we hear in Romans. None of us really seeks the true God (3:11b). What we do is reinvent him instead (1:21-23). Rather than worshipping the God who made us, we remake him in our own image. We create things to worship to salvage our pride and gain an illusion of control.
I suggested that an idol is any substitute for God and what he promises. Whatever we trust and hope in to sustain and save us, whatever we rely on to be our good news and security, whatever we seek for purpose and meaning, wherever we turn for a clean conscience, whatever we look to for strength to make progress or just endure, whatever shapes our identity and self-worth, wherever we most find comfort and peace…. those are our idols and what we honor and serve.
What are those things? We considered how much we look for power and control from popularity, career, money, possessions, knowledge, success, reputation, relationships, sexuality, pleasure, recreation, athletics, marriage, kids, politics, morality, religion, influence, service and so on. In every case, they are gods that make promises they can’t keep and instead enslave us. We work hard to get them and even harder to keep them. But it’s never enough. We have to have more and do more because they are demanding and never satisfied.
We talked, then, about how the Gospel is really a message of liberation from the idols that rule us, so we can be reconciled to the generous and gracious God who created and loves us. This Jesus that we celebrate at Christmas is called Emmanuel, God with us. He came into the mess of our world not to reprimand us and correct us, but to break the hold of all the fruitless things that hold us captive.
After our final session for the semester, I heard from a woman, a scientist, who had been a persistent skeptic of God and Christianity. She was deeply moved and convicted as she realized her own idolatry. Maybe it’s not that God doesn’t exist. Maybe it’s that we have made ourselves god by replacing him with things from his own creation. Remarkably, she asked how long it might take to learn enough to become a Christian.
Paul’s answer is so simple yet so humbling: “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.” (Rom. 10:13). That means realizing I cannot save myself, nor can anything else to which I turn. I have to stop calling on other things for hope, peace, security, meaning, etc. and turn to the One we celebrate this season.
That invitation stands for you and me too. Living the Christian life is no different than the way we start. Paul also said, “Therefore, as you received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in him.” (Col.2:6a). Or, we could apply that by saying, “Call on him, receive him, as our Savior from idols this Christmas.”
Please pray for us and our international friends. We are especially grateful to those of you who generously support this mission. It cannot continue without you.
“The angel said, Don’t be afraid. I’m here to announce a great and joyful event that is meant for everybody, worldwide: A Savior has just been born in David’s town, as Savior who is Messiah and Master.” (Luke 2:10-11, The Message)