The Idols We Fear
'Idolatry is committed, not merely by setting up false gods,
but also by setting up false devils;
by making men afraid of war or alcohol, or economic law,
when they should be afraid of spiritual corruption and cowardice.'
Christians, the overwhelming majority of them, anyway, are not exempt! For centuries, they have led the battle against Evil, often where there is no evil, but simply difference. As Chesterton noted, the evils of alcohol have been rammed down the throats of many a confessing Christian, when they should be looking inward, not outward for the heart of the issue. We have learned to fear war, or economic loss, rather than looking at our own lack of confidence. When men & women look outside themselves for either salvation or condemnation, they have set up an idol!
Idols come in many shapes & sizes: whatever one sets up in his or her life as important above all else, often becomes an idol to them, especially if it be something that must be aspired to. An idol need not be an object or person even; it can simply be an ideal ( how close is 'ideal' to 'idol'? ). To be rich, monetarily speaking, is the aim of many: it is not wrong to be wealthy, nor are riches themselves evil. As the Bible says, it is 'the love of money', which is 'a root of all [ kinds of ] evil' ( I Timothy 6:10 ), not money itself. Jesus further said, 'What comes out of a man, that defiles a man. For from within, out of the heart of men, proceed evil thoughts, adulteries, fornications, murders, thefts, covetousness, wickedness, deceit, lewdness, an evil eye, blasphemy, pride, foolishness. All these evil things come from within and defile a man' ( Mark 7:20-23 ) We should understand that it is not the object itself from which the evil emanates, but from the heart of the one who holds it, if evil there be!
Not to over-use the phrase, but a wise man once said, 'the only thing we have to fear is fear itself'. This is a true statement, not because there is nothing to be afraid of, for there is much to be concerned about, but it is how we react to things, for evil or good, with love or fear, that determines the outcome. If we approach with Fear, the thing becomes an object, or an idol, but if with Love, it remains a subject. Love, rightly understood & practiced, is the only way to refrain from idolatry! If we would learn to Love, not Fear, much that most now fear in the world, whether it be the imminent collapse of the economy, war, or the so-called 'evils of alcohol', would be done away with. What it all comes down to is Choice; we can choose to take that next drink, the one that may send us over the edge, so to speak, or we can choose to let wars & rumors of war affect us adversely; we can use the failing economy as an excuse not to live our lives to the fullest, or we can choose to use all of the above as an opportunity to Love, to heal all the hurt that has been caused by Fear!
Fearing what may come sets up idols in our lives, no matter if we admit them or not, whether it be from the economic situation we have placed ourselves in, the wars we have embroiled ourselves in, or the alcohol we try to drown ourselves in. Simply by not accepting the responsibility for our own actions & then placing the blame on an object outside ourselves, we admit that we are subject to it & indeed, ascribe some kind of worth to it, in fact, worshipping it as an ideal, or an idol. Though maybe a bit out of context, historically speaking, we may understand the apostle John's words universally, when he wrote, 'Love has been perfected among us in this: that we may have boldness in the day of judgment; because as He is, so are we in this world.' ( I John 4:17 ) These words were fulfilled in the first century, yet they are fulfilled ( filled to the fullest ) today when we do not fear what ( judgment ) may come, but face it with the Love from on high, the Love that we are!
The idols that this world has set up, whether false gods or false devils, cannot help but come tumbling down, for they have no life in them, but are subject to the ones who have set them up. Whether we, on our own, forsake the idols in our lives, or whether it be through what is called Divine Intervention that they crumble; crumble they will, for in the Face of Love, there is nothing to fear. Love knows no Fear, for Being the Object, it is Subject to none, but is the Ruler of All!
Christianity itself, or at least, what many have passed off as Christianity, has been found guilty of setting up both false gods & false devils! While not all who have taken the name 'Christian' have sullied the Name by prostrating themselves before these idols, many have committed atrocities in the name of their God, acting against the principles that Jesus taught in the very Scriptures they claim to uphold. The term 'Christian', meaning 'little Christ', has been applied loosely to those who have filled themselves as well as others with fear, by perpetrating or else perpetuating wars & other such evils.
The best & most that we, as true followers of the Way, can do is to expose, not merely these false gods & false devils, but to expose these false Christians, to show a watching world what it truly means to be a Christian. By doing what Jesus did, of whom it was said He came, not to 'condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved' ( John 3:17 ); we may begin to redeem the world rather than to condemn it by setting up idols.
Charles Haddon Shank