August 31, 2007

Sin: Idolatry as Excessive Love (1/4)

Posted in The Church at 9:56 pm by Caleb Winn

A few days ago, I blogged about what it means to be a Christian. I argued that Christ ought to be the center, but not the totality, of our lives. My position was (and to some extent still is) that we are created to enjoy life’s “lesser goods,” and that we ought not feel as if every waking moment should be consciously directed to the worship of God.

While I still maintain much of that position, I’ve also realized that it may place too little emphasis on the centrality of the gospel to Christian life. Surely man was created to walk in the garden, but when his love for the fruits of the garden grew larger than his love for God, then sin entered the worth, and death shortly thereafter. In like manner, we are created to enjoy God’s great world, and to delight in His gifts. We are made to live in community, and to love as friends, family, and partners. But the moment that any love looms larger in our lives than our love for God, then we run into the danger of idolatry.

The dangerous thing about idolatry is that the idol may be a good thing! It’s not that it is wrong to love a friend, a lover, or a noble activity such as education or the arts. The problem lies in loving excessively, to the point that our love for lesser goods overshadows our love for the Greatest Good. When we place another person, or an ideal, or a cause, at the center of our lives, then we shall surely meet ruin.

But God is faithful to prune our faithless hearts. At times I wish this were not so! When we try to build our lives around a false idol, God often takes those idols away, even though they are good things, so that we are forced to cry out to Him in our pain and be healed, to return to Him as our only basis for living.

I wonder if, more often than not, He does this by giving us exactly what we ask for. As in Dante’s Inferno, it quickly becomes clear that our sin is its own punishment. No person, or cause, is really equipped to provide us with purpose, meaning, or happiness. If we seek to build our lives around a lesser good, all God has to do is let us have our way. We will quickly realize just how foolish our desires are. Just as it is Satan’s self-pity and prideful rebellion that kept him trapped in an icy prison of his own tears, so my insistence on looking to others for happiness will always leave me frustrated and empty, for I turn to others for that which only God can provide.

But God is faithful to correct our fallen, frail, fickle hearts, and bring us back to Him. He disciplines those whom He loves. At times, we are required to give up that which we loved too dearly: an alcoholic ought not drink, even moderately, in most instances. In other instances, he may bring restoration and healing so that we are able to orient our desires rightly around His grace, and under His authority.

In either case, I suspect that we must be willing to let go completely of that which we desire, and to surrender it entirely to Him. If He chooses to bless us by restoring broken relationships or granting us financial success, or whatever particular idol we have turned over to Him, then that is a blessing. But if He never does this, then I think that we are still blessed.

None of this is to negate the idea that we ought to enjoy the love of a friend, or the beauty of a sunset. But although we are meant to enjoy these goods, and even enjoy them for their own sake, we must always enjoy God more. If we do not, He will correct our hearts. And it will be painful and difficult, but it will be worth it.

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