Becoming What We Worship
Every person, in every culture, in every era since Adam and Eve has been tempted by the lure of false gods. Tempted to define ultimate reality outside of and apart from the Creator of the universe. The Apostle Paul describes it in Romans 1:22–23, “Claiming to be wise, they became fools, and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and creeping things.”
Believing that the myth of the serpent was the key to transcending their creatureliness, humans chose autonomy. They rejected their Creator and replaced Him with mortal, created things like themselves. When they did the wisdom of the myth quickly proved foolish. Promises of life apart from God in glory are a trick, a slight of hand. Outside the garden humans are confronted with death and meaninglessness for the very first time. That’s the thing about false gods, they make promises of grandeur and freedom but, eventually, they always fail to deliver.
All of us worship something,
“The Gods we worship write their names on our faces; be sure of that. And a man will worship something … That which dominates will determine his life and character. Therefore it behooves us to be careful what we worship, for what we are worshiping we are becoming.”
If you don’t know what you worship, don’t worry; the people closest to you do, your god’s have written their names on your faces. What we worship is evidenced through out time, our habits, and our conversations. The thing we place ultimate hope in is our false god and no matter how benevolent or benign those gods seem they will transform, enslave, and destroy us.
The psalmist writes,
The idols of the nations are silver and gold, the work of human hands. They have mouths, but do not speak; they have eyes, but do not see; they have ears but do not hear, nor is there any breath in their mouths. Those who make them become like, so do all who trust in them (Ps. 135:15–18).
The Hebrew word for “image,” salem, describing what it means to be human is the same word used of false idols in the Old Testament. Idols and humans are images. Idols are the representations of false gods who seek lordship over our lives. Humans are images of the one true God of the universe who deserves lordship over our lives. As we pursue right relationship with our Creator we grow into His likeness, we become more and more God-like. The same is true of false gods. The more we give them authority in our lives, pursue them, and allow them to define ultimate reality for us, the more we resemble them.
The Creator God is real, alive, powerful, visceral, and unfathomable. Idols are created things. They have mouths but cannot speak words of power or love. They have ears but cannot hear our prayers . They have hands but cannot comfort the hurting, mold the clay, or tend the garden. Idols are mute, dumb, and lifeless and when we dedicate ourselves to them we become the same. To paraphrase the theologian G.K. Beele, we become what we worship for ruin or for restoration.
We were created to live Corum Deo, in the face God. This is an outward posture with our gaze upon God, others, and the world around us. Idolatry curves us inward. It refocuses our gaze onto ourselves. Our view and perception becomes increasingly myopic and self-centered. As Keller notes, “selfishness and self-absorption leads to bitterness, envy, anxiety, paranoia, denial, and distortion.” The apostle Paul in continuing his thought from before writes, “Therefore God gave them up in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, to the dishonoring of their bodies among themselves, because they exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever! (Rom. 1:24–25)” When image bearers cast off the responsibility and privilege of knowing God for the lie of transcendence their eyes move from the horizon to the self. Their creative acts are wasted in lifeless and selfish pursuits, distorting ability and halting flourishing.