the Idol Factory
An acquaintance of mine in the #prosapologian chat room once pointed out that the purpose of theology is to lead us to a true knowledge of God so that we do not wake up one morning and discover that we have been worshipping a god of our own imagination: a false god with no power to grant everlasting life or anything else. This is the great danger when practicing theology: that our thoughts of God would be proven to be forms of IDOLATRY.
Idolatry may be practiced through assigning attributes belonging only to God to something else, by giving affection that belongs only to God to something else, by failure to accept certain of God's attributes as defined by Scripture, or by failure to worship God for all of these attributes.
All of idolatry is, on the final analysis, self-worship, as people wish to have ultimate independence: each person wishes to exercise power over his or her own life so that when he or she does choose to acknowledge a god and go through the motions of serving that god, the god must be one of their own choice.
In the seventeenth thesis of his Disputation Against Scholastic Theology, written in 1517, Martin Luther describes this dilemma people face in regards to idolatry with these words:
Man is by nature unable to want God to be God. Indeed, he himself wants to be God and does not want God to be God.
Out of selfish pride a person will choose to worship the god of his or her own culture that gives his or her life meaning. Out of selfish pride a person will choose to rebel against his or her culture through worshipping another god. Out of selfish pride a person will, when claiming to worship the God of the Holy Bible, choose to deny the attributes that the Bible ascribes to God. Out of selfish pride, a person will choose to give lip-service to God's attributes and then secretly harbor hatred for these same attributes.
And each one of us has fallen into this selfish pride, as the prophet Isaiah declared:
All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned every one to his own way; (Isaiah 53:6a KJV)
So what is the answer to this dilemma? As a theologian, how can YOU avoid idolatry? How can YOU worship the true God that grants everlasting life?
The answer lies in the fact that you CANNOT depend on our own faculties to avoid idolatry. As has been examined above, the problem of idolatry is an internal problem of our selfish natures, so we need something from outside of ourselves that can be applied to our hearts. And for this activity, God has provided His Word:
For the word of God is living and effective and sharper than any two-edged sword, penetrating as far as to divide soul, spirit, joints, and marrow; it is a judge of the ideas and thoughts of the heart. (Hebrews 4:12 HCSB)
So it is only through the power of the Holy Spirit as you humbly receive God's Word by faith-- expecting and asking God to correct your errors and lead you into the truth-- that you can flee idolatry and practice true theology.
We know that we are of God, and the whole world is under the sway of the evil one. And we know that the Son of God has come and has given us understanding so that we may know the true One. We are in the true One--that is, in His Son Jesus Christ. He is the true God and eternal life. Little children, guard yourselves from idols. (I John 5:19-21 HCSB)
[This blogpost is adapted from a post originally published on 6/20/05.]