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Monday, June 29, 2015

The God Who Isn't There

It used to strike me as a bit odd that John, writing to believers, ends his first epistle with "Little children, guard yourselves from idols." (1 John 5:21) It is surely an abrupt ending, but it seemed odd to me that he would be warning believers to guard themselves from idols. Odd, that is, until I figured out what an idol was.

An idol is any object that is worshiped ... who is not God, of course. The biblical term refers specifically to an "image", with "an image that is worshiped" implied. At its core, then, an idol is anything we worship that is not God but is a substitute for God.

Nothing there is particularly controversial or hard to fathom. But then you take some time to think it through, and it gets ... convicting.

We know that people can worship lots of things in place of God. There are the standard "pagan" deities, but we don't really wrestle much with worshiping Mithra or Baal. We are more into money, cars, power, fame, good looks, love, romance, other people, that kind of stuff. But we're Christians and we know the true God and we're working on the rest of it.

The problem, though, is that most of our Christian idolatry goes completely unnoticed. It occurs when we think we're actually looking at God and we're not. We're asking, "Why, God?" because God "proved Himself incapable" or "unwise" or "unloving" or something ... which is not God. We experience a difficulty or a threat and we don't respond with gratitude (1 Thess 5:16-18), but in fear ... which is not God. We commonly make the very same mistake they made over and over in the Bible. "You thought that I was just like you." (Psa 50:21) They're easy mistakes, understandable, not difficult to imagine ... and they're idolatry, a substitute for God.

It is said that there are two key things to get straight if you want to have accurate theology. You must have a true understanding of the nature of Man, and you must have a true understanding of the nature of God. It is said, further, that the only way to get a true understanding of the nature of Man is to get a true understanding of the nature of God. Us? Most of us are muddling around with self-aggrandizing ideas of what we are and a sadly watered-down version of what God is and think we're doing okay.

Suddenly, John makes a lot of sense. We have far too often a God who isn't there, a substitute image that is not God. "Little children, guard yourselves from idols."

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