The heart is a factory of idols. That quote from Calvin is common to hear repeated in Reformed circles, so much so that maybe it has become cliche. But like so many cliches, there is truth to it. In this case, profound truth.
As most evangelicals wrongly see Satan under every blade of grass, we often fail to see our idols there instead. Everywhere we turn in our lives an idol crops up, waiting to pull our worship away from God. If all of life is to be categorised by worship, then all of life can also succumb to idolatry.
Of course, I’m not speaking necessarily of pagan tree worship–although that is a reality in some places–but the everyday idols that we take for granted. Yet whatever form it may take, all idols seek to devour our souls. Idolatry in the western hemisphere can include many things. The aforementioned tree worshipping is probably in vogue somewhere near Seattle, but idolatry’s subtle charm overwhelms us in every avenue of life. Be it the desire for more money; climbing up the corporate ladder; breaking one’s long-held convictions in compromise; marriage to the wrong person because of age; the mass hoarding of material possessions; coveting other people’s goods or life…this list could go on and on. It can go on and on because any sin is ultimately idolatry and the list of sins possible to the human heart is almost infinite.
I have been thinking a lot about idolatry lately, not the least because I recently read Tim Keller’s excellent little book Counterfeit Gods. But it has hit close to home lately and has really forced me to consider how vast and deep idolatry entrenches itself in our lives.
But what are idols good for? To paraphrase the title of Herbert Schlossberg’s classic, they are only good for destruction. If we don’t destroy the idols of our hearts, God will. Consider the story of Dagon, the idol of 1 Samuel 5. It is one of the great stories in the bible alongside that of Shadrack, Meshack and Abednego, if only for its clear demonstration that God hates idolatry. You probably know the story, when the captured ark of the covenant was placed in the same room as Dagon, the idol fell over. The Philistines put Dagon back in order, only to find him fallen again, this time with his head and hands broken off. What a fantastic image!
When God deals with idolatry, it’s not an easy thing to experience. The wound hurts as the cancer is pulled free. And while it is good for the idol to be destroyed, the process often leaves a scar. This is a reminder to myself to keep free of idols, hard though it is. I succumb to idolatry regularly because, as I’ve said, all sin is idolatry. The key to destroying the idols of one’s heart is found in one word: satisfaction. To be satisfied in God and what he has planned for us is the key to keep us from turning to idols. When I’m satisfied in God I will not covet my neighbour’s car. When I’m satisfied in God I will not begrudge another of the good life God has given them. When I’m satisfied in Christ my life is ultimately placed in his hands and I will trust him to do what is right with me.
Satisfaction in Christ rests first and foremost in the gospel. That Christ, the eternal Son of God, died for my sins on a Roman cross should give me great cause to be satisfied in all that he has done for me. How could I not be satisfied in him? He died, he was resurrected, he intercedes for me, he sent the Holy Spirit for me, he will come again to bring me into my eternal reward. When I lack in satisfaction in Christ, I in effect tell him that these things mean nothing.
God help my unbelief. God help all of our unbelief! This is a problem that plagues us all, and we must be aware of it and diligent in killing it. To close with another reference to a quote by a famous Reformed theologian, in this case John Owen, we should be killing sin or sin will be killing us.