Sunday, January 28, 2007

Dangerous Obsessions

What are the dangerous obsessions of your life? What are those areas that you cling to above every other person, goal, thing, etc.? What is it that drives you, motivates you, compels you to act without hesitation in its service?

There are two categories for things of this sort, as there are two categories for most things. They are labeled Good and Bad. In the first category we can put only and exactly one such obsession: the obsession with glorifying God and with making Jesus Christ known to the world. In the other we must put all else. We must put everything in our lives in the other category, in fact, in comparison to the overwhelmingly supreme position that the one single obsession should have in our lives. Because anything else is worse than bad: it is truly evil. It is an idol.

I've been thinking about two seemingly unrelated topics recently: idols, and surrender. In reality, the two are intricately and inextricably intertwined. One cannot speak of the notion of surrender without asking to whom or to what one is surrendering; and one cannot speak of dealing with an idol in one's without considering the notion of surrender.

Idols are interesting. I think we in America today (and other parts of the Western world) in all our "glorious" embrace of post-modernism and post-Christianity, blessed so richly materially, and thoroughly anti-theistic ideas often fail to understand the Old Testament notion of an idol. We cannot comprehend the idea of setting up a wooden or stone statue and then proceeding to worship it: our reason compels us to take the view that it is utterly ineffective and even absurd to worship a piece of stone or a fallen tree that we ourselves have shaped, and in our own image, no less. Yet that is still the essential definition of an idol: a god made in our own image.

There are, of course, many examples of what this looks like in the world around us: materialism, lust, greed, selfishness. People live for themselves and make their own pleasure their own god. They seek fulfillment and satisfaction in sex, drugs, money, fame... family, children, and religion. Ultimately, though, every single one of those boils down to putting something above God. When someone puts anything above God, they are putting themselves above God: repeating the exact sin that caused the Fall of Man, and that led Satan to destruction. They make themselves gods; they create idols carved in their own image. Christians can do this, too. How easily we put even good things on pedestals: marriage, mission trips, church involvement, children, friendships... you can name almost any good activity and spend very little time looking before you find someone in the church who has made an idol out of it. Again, we seek our own good and our own pleasure rather than the glory of God Almighty. In so doing, we make an idol out of that thing and worship it - and thus, worship ourselves.

Equally sinful, though perhaps more horrifying, is when we not only make an idol of ourselves, but actually try to remake God in our own image. That is a sobering thought, if one pauses to consider it. We in Christian circles, along with every cult in the world, have a terrible tendency to remake God and shape Him in an image that is comfortable for us. When we worship that god, we are not worshiping Yahweh; we are worshiping ourselves. We are worshiping a vision that we have created in place of God's revelation of Himself to us. (That's one reason that good theology and solid teaching of the Word are so important: we must know who God is if we are to worship Him properly. If we do not know who He is - and how could we, without looking at what He has told us of Himself - then what we choose to worship will be our own conception of God, and our own conception of God will always and ever be grossly and hideously malformed, twisted by the sickening decay and corruption that has tainted mankind since the Fall.)

It is unsurprising that a cult or other religion would remake God in their own image; but what bothers me is how strong the tendency is in me to make an idol out of my own ideas of who God is, or who He should be. Especially in theologically liberal circles, but in any Christian fellowship that does not constantly check itself against the Word, it is easy to make statements about God that simply are not true. I can't even count the number of times I've heard things like, "God would never send people to hell just because they messed up a few times. I can't believe in a God who would do that; that's not loving. And God is all about love." God is love, yes, it's true. In fact, we wouldn't even know what love was if He hadn't taught us by loving us first. But our definition of love is sorely lacking; and more importantly that statement misses the fact that God is not merely loving: He is also just, kind, merciful, wrathful, righteous, jealous, omniscient, omnipresent, compassionate, omnipotent, holy, fearful, terrible, awesome, beautiful... the list goes on. He is who He has revealed Himself to be. The fact that who He is can sometimes make us uncomfortable does not excuse our redefining Him; in so doing we set up for ourselves an idol in our hearts, carved in our own image. Christians are, of all those who do this, the worst (meaning I am the worst) because of all that do this, we are those with the least excuse. We have the truth; and to twist it for our own comfort is execrable.

I have made idols in my life. I have held things far too dear; let obsessions other than Christ drive me. And that is dangerous. Dangerous is not bad in and of itself; but this sort of danger very much is: it is danger for our very spiritual being. What have my idols been? Many things. Mostly, relationships: long-standing friendships, dating, a future marriage. All of those are good things. However, when they are what drive us, rather than the love of Christ - when we are compelled by a need to sate those desires, rather than by an overwhelming urge to glorify God with every breath we take - then they are no longer good for us. They become idols. We worship them. We let them control our lives, make our decisions for us. They become god. What is an idol? It is anything we surrender to that isn't God.

What is the cure for an idol? Unsurprisingly, the cure is related directly to the problem. Surrender. But instead of surrendering to an idol - to our own flesh, to our own desires, even to our own needs - we surrender all of ourselves to God. We surrender our desires even for wonderful things like marriage and children, friends, opportunities to serve and minister. We must surrender all. I have spent a great deal of time recently thinking about that: what it means to truly surrender all of ourselves. For me, in the last year, it has meant letting go of my desire to be famous, admired, respected. It has meant letting go of my need for close friendships. It has meant letting go of marriage. It has meant letting go of my grades. It has meant letting go of my future. Giving them all - every single one - to God, and simply saying, "Not my will, but Yours be done. Glorify Yourself and Your name in my life. I want nothing else more than that." It has been hard. And the farther I come, the farther I see that I have yet to go in this walk of letting go of myself so that I might honor my God and Father. There are desires in that list. I still hope I get married. But if my King calls me to walk out this life single, then I will obey, and I will do so with joy, not with resignation. I still desire close, edifying friendships, but if God calls me to go through seasons of alone-ness, I will do so content, not lonely. I walk with God first and foremost. I will not be mastered by any of these things, though they are good for me.

I will be mastered only by the grace and sufficiency of Christ.

No one and nothing else is worth surrendering to. Period.

- Chris


  1. Chris - thanks for visiting! Your comments on boundless are always well thought out and intelligent. It's an interesting place to visit for me when I have time. CS is a great man, husband, and father. He is certainly a man worth looking up to - not perfect in himself but willing to be perfected in He who created him. A really cool guy!

    didn't get to read this post - i'll have to come back - gotta get my oldest, she's 9 and in 3rd grade - put to bed. right now she's begging for a donut - don't think so! gosh, in ten short years she'll be in your place - wow.

  2. hey chris - this is excellent. i fervently pray that God would fill me with the desires of His heart, and then fulfil the desires of my heart :)

    your desires are not bad or wrong, as you stated. and when your heart is so intimate with your Maker, your desires are probably from Him. only He can confirm that.

    when i first married, i did make my husband my god. i wanted him to lead me to Christ. yes, i was a believer, but i wanted someone to follow. not all bad in marriage. but i took it too far. i stunted my spiritual growth to match his. i struggled with growing more intimate with my God than my husband was with God. when i finally found freedom to grow in my intimacy with my God, my marriage really began to dissolve. he had already really screwed up, but i could have stayed where he was and lived IN it.

    i remember that day clearly. i was in a session with my counselor and responded to him saying, "if i do this, and he doesn't, then we'll go in two different directions."

    "yes," he said, "then you won't have a marriage anymore."

    leaving my god of my husband to be joined more intimately with my Holy God cost me a lot; it certainly cost me my marriage.

    on another note, everything you do, every choice you make, becomes a part of you. every part of you will be woven into your marriage and subsequently into your role as father. your children will not see you simply as dad beginning the day they were born. they will see you as dad beginning the day YOU were born. very heavy, isn't it. when you go thru your days and seasons, remember you are living a life now that will be reflected in the future. may your reflection of your past, when you marry, when you become a dad, reflect Christ. i think it will.


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