Saturday, April 29, 2017

Temples of Love

When do idols become idols? What constitutes idolatry? In the Bible, we see that idolatry is a huge part of humanity’s sin problem. You could even make an argument that it is our only problem, that all sin boils down to idolatry. We also see that Israel thought they were maintaining an appropriate allegiance to God while participating in idolatry. It is as if they considered idolatry as merely a cultural activity apart from their relationship with God. Or, at times, as if it were an appropriate means of worshiping God.

That worries me.

Some of the things we do as believers—even aspects of our worship and expressions of our religious lives—spill over into idolatry. After all, plenty of things done by God’s people to worship Him in the Old Testament were condemned by God as idolatry! The Golden Calf in Exodus was designed to aid people to worship YHWH. The sin of Jeroboam that ultimately led to the downfall of the Northern Kingdom was a means of worshiping YHWH. The high places in Judah were dedicated to worshiping God, not gods. It seems intentions are not all that matter.

That is because, as sinful humanity, our idols live in our hearts.

Most concerning at times in my mind, are all the cultural things we like, love, and do that might be more blatantly idolatry. Is our obsession with pop-cultural stories any different than Greek and Roman religion? Is our fandom of our local sports and other expressions of civic pride any different than regional, tribal, animism? Does our patriotism at times cross the line into emperor worship?

And when you visit world-renowned museums of landmarks and admire the paintings, statues, and architecture… at what point does that become worship?

This preoccupied my thoughts even more last week when we visited Versailles. A monument to opulence, greed, and oppression, I became more obsessed with the people around me than the “finery.” What was going through their minds? What drew them to this place? Were we all drawn to the luxury out of desire or envy? Were we wishing we could live like this, or were we seeing parallels between Louis XIV and Trump, between Marie Antoinette and Ivanka?

Things really came to a head out in the gardens. There was a particular landmark called “The Temple of Love.” It was pavilion in the style of ancient Greek temples, with a decorative statue (idol?) of Cupid placed in the middle. No one thinks for a minute that Marie Antoinette was a religious devotee of Cupid in the literal sense. She had a Catholic Chapel attached to her house, after all. (Which opens a whole other level of idolatry in the name of worshiping God.) But there was no getting away from the fact that this decoration verged on idolatry.

So, my question is, where are the temples in my garden? What are the idols in my heart?

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