The Progression of an Idol


1) I Desire

I’ve been reading Ken Sande’s The Peacemaker: A Biblical Guide to Resolving Personal Conflict.  Sande writes that:

“Conflict always begins with some kind of desire.  Some desires are inherently wrong, such as vengeance, lust, or greed, but many desires are not.  For example, there is nothing innately wrong about desiring things like peace and quiet, respectful children, a loving spouse, more time with your grandchildren, a new computer, proessional success, or a growing church.  These are good things, and it is fine to want them and seek them in reasonable ways.” (p. 102)

But conflict ensues when:

1) someone stands between you and your desire and they persistently fail to satisfy your desire (p. 102)

2) instead of talking about it and trying to resolve the conflict, we fight achieve our desire, dwell on our disappointments, and allow the desire and disappointment to control our lives.  (p. 103)

2) I Demand

“Unmet desires have the potential of working themselves deeper and deeper into our heart.  This is especially true when we come to see a desire as something we need or deserve and therefore must have in order to be happy or fulfilled.  There are many ways to justify or legitimize a desire.” (p. 103)

I worked hard all day.  I deserve some mind-numbing entertainment when I get home.

I talk to people all day long.  I deserve to have some quiet mind-numbing entertainment at home.

I worked hard last night.  I deserve to sleep in and skip this work this morning and catch up on some TV-watching.  I deserve to get a break once in a while.

“There is an element of validity in each of these statements.  The trouble is that if these seemingly legitimate desires are not met, we can find ourselves in a vicious cycle.  The more we want something, the more we think we need and deserve it.  And the more we think we are entitled to something, the more convinced we are that we cannot be happy and secure without it.  When we see something as being essential to our fulfillment and well-being, it moves from being a desire to a demand.” (p. 104)

Sande continues, challenging my traditional view of idolatry.  He writes that “an idol is anything apart from God that we depend on to be happy, fulfilled, or secure.  In biblical terms, it is something other than God that we set out heart on (Luke 12:29; 1 Cor. 10:19), that motivates us (1 Cor. 4:5), that masters and rules us (Ps. 119:133; Eph. 5:5), or that we trust, fear, or serve (Isa. 42:17; Matt. 6:24; Luke 12:4-5).  In short, it is something we love and pursue more than God (see Phil. 3:19).”

That’s important.  Let me make that a little bigger…

“an idol is anything apart from God that we depend on to be happy, fulfilled, or secure.  In biblical terms, it is something other than God that we set out heart on, that motivates us, that masters and rules us, or that we trust, fear, or serve.  In short, it is something we love and pursue more than God.” (p. 104)

Sande gives us this “X-Ray” of questions to help us reveal the idols in our hearts.  I’ve put my own answers in italics.

What am I preoccupied with?  What is the first thing on my mind in the morning and the last thing on my mind at night?

Whether or not Castle and Beckett will get together, wishing Ugly Betty had one more season, where’s the remote??

How would I answer the question: “If only________, then I would be happy, fulfilled, secure”?

If only I bought that first season of “Big Bang Theory” I’d have something fun to do on Fridays when Henry is working…

What do I want to preserve or to void at all costs?

OMG!  They put up the new episode of “Glee” – I have to stay home this morning at watch it…oh crap…work…but…do I really need to be on time???

Where do I put my trust?

In myself.

What do I fear?

The electricity going out during the mid-season premiere of Glee.

When a certain desire is not met, do I feel frustration, anxiety, resentment, bitterness, anger, or depression?

I can’t believe that Tallahassee Fox disturbed the picture for 90 seconds of Glee’s mid-season premiere and ran that annoying scroll about the news being on CBS tonight!  Argh!

Is there something I desire so much that I am willing to disappoint or hurt others in order to have it?

I don’t want to have sex right now, Henry.  I want to watch NCIS.  C’mon, it’s one of your favorite shows.  What’s the deal?

C’mon….let’s watch Castle together.  After all, Jack of All Trades got me in the mood last night….you know it did…

What a weird-o.  I can’t believe she won’t let her kids watch “Harry Potter.”  It’s an incredible movie.  What a judgmental Christian elitist.

3) I Judge

“Idolatrous demands usually leads us to judge other people.  When they fail to saisfy our desire and live up to our expectations, we criticize and condemn them in our hearts if not with our words.

As David Powlison writes:

We judge others–criticize, nit-pick, nag, attack, condemn–because we literally play God.  This is heinous.  [The Bible says,] “There is only one lawgiver and Judge, the one who is abel to save and to destroy; but who are you to judge your neighbor?” Who are you when you judge?  None other than a God wannabe.  In this we become like the Devil himself (no surprise that the Devil is mentioned in james 3:15 and 4:7).  We act exactly like the adversary who seeks to usurp God’s throne and who acts as the accuser of the brethren.  When you and I fight, our minds become filled with accusations: your wrongs and my rights preoccupy me.  We play the self-righteous judge in the mini-kingdoms we establish.

This insight should leave us shaking in our boots!  When we judge others and condemn them in our hearts for not meeting our desires, we are imitating the devil (see James 3:15; 4:7).  In doing so, we have doubled our idolatry problem: Not only have we let an idolatrous desire rule our hearts, but we have also set ourselves up as judging minigods.  This is a formula for excruciating conflict.

Sande is not saying that judging people is inherently wrong.  But we cross the line when we “begin to sinfully judge others, which is characterized by a feeling of superiority, indignation, condemnation, bitterness, or resentment.  Sinful judging often involves speculating on other’ motives.  Most of all, it reveals the absence of a genuine love and concern toward them.  When these attitudes are present, our judging has crossed the line and we are playing God.  The closer we are to others, the more we expect of them, and the more likely we are to judge them when they fail to meet our expectations.  For example, we may look at our spouse and think, If you really love me, you above all people will help meet my need. We think of our children and say, “After all I’ve done for you, you owe this to me.” ”

I have no children, but I have definitely heard that line from my parents and from other parents I interact with.  I feel like I’ve heard the spouse line from my lips and from Hollywood.  Expectations aren’t bad, but they are when “they become conditions and standard that we use to judge others” (p. 108).  One of the greatest expectation-struggles Henry and I have dealt with this first year of our marriage has been with our expectations for each other’s behavior.  He had expectations for me (sex a certain number of times a week comes to mind) and I had expectations for him (servitude, queen-bee treatment, freedom, free reign with money spending).  When those two expectations collided, we had intense conflict.  A couple of nights I even tried to leave, but he didn’t let me.  I still remember this one night, not too long ago, that Henry stood behind the car when I tried to sneak out of the house and run away from our conflict.  He stood behind the car so I couldn’t back up.  I was angry, frustrated, but the next day I told him that I felt like he was being Jesus to me.  Henry’s always telling me that I’m his, “you’re my wife!” and hugging me and smiling and whispering “you’re mine…” — in a totally non-controlling way, I must clarify.  Once I had calmed down, I realized I was thankful for Henry doing what he did; that he reminded me of Jesus in that moment.  The Jesus I’ve been learning about in the PCA is one that says “you’re mine” and doesn’t let you go again.  He’s one that pursues, and loves, and even though he may let us go to our sinful desires for a time, he is always there.  He won’t let us leave him.  And when we’re listening again, we can hear His voice…I love you…you’re mine…and I love you…don’t do this, because it will destroy you…and I don’t want that, because I love you…

4) I Punish

Idols always demand sacrifices.

Idols always demand sacrifices (p. 108).  When someone fails to satisfy our demands and expectations, our idol demands that he should suffer.  Whether deliberately or unconsciously, we will find ways to hurt or punish people so that they will give in to our desires.

The punishment can take several forms.  I have personally punished Henry by withholding sex, pouting, walking out on conversations, demanding that he do the dishes.  I’ve personally punished friends by withholding my gaze and conversation, judged them to other friends and talked about their decisions and judged them as “stupid” and built up resentment to co-workers that I disagree with or feel ever-so-slightly slighted by.  I’ve imposed guilt and shame on others that have not bowed down to my idols.  As a youth, I would harshly judge a Jewish friend and rudely tell her that she was going to hell and that her faith was stupid.  More often, though…I withdraw from relationships to hurt others.


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