Stress, Revealer of Idols

The term “idolatry” is big and bad. It probably conjures pictures of bad Israelites and really bad Babylonians doing bad sacrificial, religious acts, in defiance of the one true God. That’s all true. But in the whole of the Bible, the term idolatry came to mean a constellation of faith, deeds, beliefs, affections, and even resting, in antipathy to the one, true God. Whatever we rest and seek life in, instead of God, is an idol. Thus you will hear us, in this local church, speak of commonplace actions as revealers of one’s own idolatries. And it applies to everyone, not just “bad” Israelites and heathen Babylonians. One theologian famously said that our hearts are “idol factories” (see the second half of Romans 2). Thus, we should not recoil from conversation about idolatry. Yes, it is really, really bad. And tragically, it is universal. Everybody does it; it is doubly bad.

Yet, praise to God: the reason we can talk about such a bad, bad thing so openly, so freely, is not that we have become immune or anesthetized to the subject. It is because we are “covered” by the work of God, by the sacrifice of Jesus on our behalf. When he died on the cross, he sovereignly, freely of His own will, cut a new covenant with us, and gave us a new heart, a heart that could finally see and trust Him. On the grounds of this faith, we are covered by His blood, His life, His sacrifice, now free to look a subject like idolatry straight in the eye.

There’s nothing to lose, much to gain. We presently live in the middle, already covered, but not yet glorified. There is more ground to be gained, more of Jesus to be savored, by faith, and therefore more glory for Him to get in us. So it is good for us to look at our commonplace actions, and see what they mean. To illustrate:

You come home from a stressful day. You should help with some chores, but instead you browse posts on Instagram, on your phone. Now, to be sure, Instagram and other like apps have been designed by experts in addiction, having learned from the gambling industry. But their hooks would not sink into people, if there were not a corresponding “loop” in our hearts. The primary problem is located in our “worship and trust center” - our “hearts”. If that loop did not exist, Instagram would have no effect. What has happnened, in this moment of refuge-taking in Instagram, is that your/my real faith, and true allegiance has been revealed. When we take refuge in something other than God, life does not work: the house remains a mess and relationships with others at home fracture in frustration; your mind becomes, as one person has put it, “sliced into a million pieces” making your more stressed; and the original stress remains. Note that: by avoiding taking the troublesome things to God, and taking refuge in something else, we effectively cement the thing we wanted to avoid more deeply into our life. Idolatry is very consistent and “faithful” in this way: it always promises life, but always gives death.

The way out is not to focus first on, for instance, the relationship issues caused by the addictive distraction. The way out is to repent of your/my particular brand of unbelief, revealed at the point of refuge-taking. So we turn to Christ, admitting our unbelief, which should humble us. That’s good, because God gives grace to the humble. The humble get that way by casting their cares upon Him, instead of our iPhone, or spouse, or beer, or . . or . . . or. (See the logic of 1 Peter 5:6-7 for where I get this.) God gives grace to the humble, and and humility comes by faith, by trusting Him with the thousand cuts of life. Where does faith come from? My gut? My own repentance? No. It comes by exposing my wayward heart to the particular promises of God. Here is how Peter draws us to believe, that we would humbly cast our cares on God:

“[Know] that the same kinds of suffering are being experienced by your brotherhood throughout the world. And after you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, confirm, strengthen and establish you. To him be the dominion forever and ever. Amen.” (1 Peter 5:9-11)