When I was a child, I searched the TV Guide this time of year in eager anticipation of the annual showing of The Wizard of Oz. The movie captivates me today the same as it did decades ago. Some scenes left an indelible mark on my memory. Like the one where the wicked witch flies through the sky while the main characters watch her spell out “Surrender Dorothy!” in broom exhaust.
Dorothy had to surrender alright, but it wasn’t to what she most feared. She didn’t surrender to the wicked witch. No. She discovered something far more deadly than a sinister woman in black. Eventually, she surrendered her idealized/idolized life and was set free to love the life she already had but hadn’t wanted until it was lost. In essence, her trip to Oz was a death and a resurrection—a realization of what it means to live life fully alive instead of half-dead.
Idols. We all have them. We all seek them. We all bow down and worship them. And in so doing, we allow them to capture, enslave, and torture us to death. Why? Because, like Dorothy, we are always looking for greener grass, for somewhere over the rainbow where dreams come true, for a place with no pain and suffering.
Welcome back to planet Earth. Such pursuit of happiness always leads to disappointment or worse when we put our pursuits above God. We can become terrified and tortured by the very things we thought we wanted. Sometimes what we want carries us far away from home where demons come calling for our ruby slipper souls. And we need to discover that our idols are trying to kill us, not fulfill us.
We can read the Bible as if it’s just some antiquated book of stories without much application to modern day life, especially when we read of ancient people bowing down and worshiping a golden calf. Certainly, we’re more advanced—smarter—more spiritual! Certainly, WE would never do such a thing!
But we do. Every single day—we do. Our God made us for an exclusive love relationship with himself. We were not made to divvy up our affections—our holy of holies—and distribute them among many lovers. But we do. We have had many bed-partners.
What or who do I love more than God? What or who do I want more than God? Whatever the answer, the word IDOL is inscribed. And sometimes the idols aren’t obvious. And sometimes our culture condones and even encourages love of certain idols. Like independence and happiness. It’s American, after all, written right into our Declaration.
We’re still told repeatedly by media that we deserve happiness, like it’s some entitlement. Really? Do we even deserve to be alive, let alone happy? And we’re told we can worship anything we want—with no consequence. Really? Who made that rule? Not God.
God is a jealous God. He is jealous for us. He wants us to have no other loves before Him because all other lovers are false lovers, making false promises, always disappointing and hurting and leaving us wanting.
Only the Maker of our souls can fill us the way we really want to be filled.
But filling requires dying.
Our idols must die if we want to live life fully alive.
And it’s not just the bad that must go. It’s the good too.
It’s easy to point fingers at wicked witches in others’ souls. But what about the things we define as good that cause us to fret—that enslave us with fear chains? What about family? What about friends? What about achievement or lack of achievement? What about food? What about clothes? What about houses and cars and jobs and _____________________?
Even good things can become prisons wrapped in layers of impenetrable walls, keeping us in and keeping true love out. I drove behind a dump truck today filled to the brim with concrete rubble. Bold letters on the back read, “My own prison.” How symbolic. How sad that we all drive around full of things we think we want and need, even good things, making what’s nothing more than rubble into our own prisons that bind.
Tim Keller, pastor and author of The Reason for God, writes:
Sin isn’t only doing bad things, it is more fundamentally making good things into ultimatethings. Sin is building your life and meaning on anything, even a very good thing, more than on God. Whatever we build our life on will drive us and enslave us. Sin is primarily idolatry. (Emphasis mine.)
God doesn’t just call us to lay down idols we think harm us. God calls us to lay down idols that we think help us. Because they don’t. They don’t help us live a true life—a full life. Only keeping our inner altars clear of false gods ushers us into the Holy of Holies where we find the one, true God—the One and Only who can give true rest for our souls.
For whatever consumes us—whatever drives us more than God and His ways—whatever thing or non-thing we want and seek more than God and His ways—these are the chains that bind.
And chains don’t start out looking like chains. They start out looking like lovers.
If we only do this, if we only have that—then we will find contentment. The further we step toward false lovers, the closer we get towards entanglement. Sooner or later, addictions take hold and we want and we need and we must havesomething, anything other than the God who would set us free—anything other than the God who would give us what we REALLY want but don’t KNOW we want.
I know. I have sought God to set me free from idols throughout my life. My main idols have been performance and approval. Those have lessened immensely, thank you God. But I still struggle with worry about our kids because of their special needs—which is really the idol of control. Will they be taken care of when Todd and I are dead and gone? Will God REALLY provide for them? Every day I’m aware of how this idol of control robs me, sucks the life right out of me, kills me softly. How do I cope?
Every day I visualize placing our kids on the altar of God and leaving them before Him and His promise that He will never leave them or forsake them—that He has given them a future and a hope. Every day, I bring them before God and claim His promise for them. And every day, if I don’t put them in God’s hands and leave them there, the idol starts to squeeze my throat with anxiety, and I start to feel my life slipping away.
My idols might not be yours.
It really doesn’t matter much what the idol is. An idol is an idol. In essence they’re all the same. They come to entice and to bind, to steal and to kill. They all lie. God comes to entice and to set free, to love and to give life.
But we can’t have true life when we insist on holding onto death.
Which do I really want today?
Actually, laying idols on the altar of God feels like death at first. That’s why we avoid laying them down and letting them go. We don’t trust God enough to believe that we’re better off without our idols. We don’t believe there is life beyond the death that we’re called to each and every day. So we walk away from the altar of God with a firm grip on our idols in which we trust more.
God tells us plainly that there is no true life without death. We must die to idolatry if we want to be resurrected to true life.
But death is painful.
And we are pain avoiders.
We idolize comfort at all cost.
Avoiding legitimate pain is our biggest problem in life. But once we accept that life is difficult, that there is no true gain without pain, somehow the gain becomes worth the pain. Not many accept this road less traveled, at first. Most seek pain relief –the biggest human idol there is—and in so doing, ironically experience more and more pain.
There is no way out except through Christ who showed us that the only way out is death—denunciation of everything not of God.
This holy death brings true life to those who truly believe.
True life will only be found in the process of dying to idols—allowing God into our prisons to set us free to live as we were made—to love Him and be loved by Him.
The more our idols die, the more we really live.
For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. Matthew 6:21
Jesus replied, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself. All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.” Matthew 22:37-40