Dan 4:34 At the end of the days I, Nebuchadnezzar, lifted my eyes to heaven, and my reason returned to me, and I blessed the Most High, and praised and honored him who lives forever, for his dominion is an everlasting dominion, and his kingdom endures from generation to generation; Dan 4:35 all the inhabitants of the earth are accounted as nothing, and he does according to his will among the host of heaven and among the inhabitants of the earth; and none can stay his hand or say to him, "What have you done?"
We all know that we were created to honor God and to love him supremely and find all that he is to be our fulfillment in life. Idolatry is putting anything before our worship and love for the Lord. Idolatry was rampant in the OT and God deals with it as much as anything and that was this that led to Israel’s downfall as much as any other sin. Often the commentators speak of how the Babylonian captivity cured Israel of idolatry once and for all.
If we think of idolatry in general terms that might be so as they no longer overtly worshipped gods other than Yahweh. But if we think of idolatry as putting your own desires above the Lord then we find idolatry to be a sin that all struggle with as did the Jews of Jesus’s day. I think of the Pharisee who prayed in a self-righteous way, boasting that he wasn’t as bad as the poor tax collector next to him and went home as sinful and unjustified as he came.
His main problem was that he had a view of God that was skewed. He thought that the God he worshipped was the kind of God that would gladly accept his miserable works as good enough to get on God’s good side. Because he had in a sense redefined God he committed idolatry and he did so to his own damnation.
Thus defined, we see that idolatry is rampant today and this is true even in many churches and hearts of saints. We can illustrate this by the example of the young man who writes a love letter to a young woman he loves. In it he describes her beautiful blond hair and lovely blue eyes and all the things about her that he loves. But the problem is that she is a brunette with brown eyes and he is describing someone who isn’t anything like the woman he supposedly loves. We all know that this woman would not find this to be acceptable. It is like him saying I love you but I wish you looked like your sister!
It is very easy to fall into this trap when it comes to God and this is why theology is of the utmost importance. Many people read the Bible not so they can get to know God and find out all the reasons he is to be loved and worshipped but to find something helpful for some problem they are going through or how to succeed in life or some such self-centered thing. Very often we come to the Scriptures with preconceived notions that we hold to and have no plans of letting go of regardless of what we find in the Bible.
This is especially problematic when it comes to how we understand God. How many people do you know who refuse to acknowledge that God is sovereign over all things or that he is a holy God who will punish sin eternally in Hell? Instead they want to think of God as a loving softy who only wants us to be happy, wealthy, healthy and successful. So they ignore those attributes of God that they don’t like and concentrate on the ones they like and necessarily make up ones that don’t exist. Like the man in our example, they extol things about God that are not true or are so one sided that they end up describing some other god; the one that exists in their minds. This is idolatry.
These thoughts came to me as I am preaching through 2 Cor. 1 and in particular where it describes God as the God of all comfort. The Lord comforts us by the truth of the gospel and by explaining to us why afflictions come and our duty in them and that being in Christ will one day bring them to an end; in others words primarily through thinking through truth.
If we refuse to acknowledge that God sends trials for our good and that they are part of the Christian’s duty in life to endure hardships as a good soldier of Jesus Christ and instead we spend all our time praying for him to take them away and are discontent and bitter when he doesn’t then we have reformulated God into something he is not. We have made him there for us and not us there for him; we have rejected his sovereign rule over all things and have rejected his explanation and commit idolatry. We say we love him but when he tells us what pleases him we have no desire to prove our love by obeying.
Properly responding to affliction by being faithful and patient in a God honoring way is worshipping God as he is. And therefore, responding to affliction in an unbiblical way is to worship the God of our imagination. We have looked at God’s picture as seen in the Bible and we don’t like what we see and so we “tweak” God to make him a little more to our liking. And then we go to church and sing praises to him while all along thinking about his “sister” so to speak.
I know that we will spend our entire lives studying God’s attributes and trying to better understand what he “looks” like and we will always have a somewhat defective understanding until we stand before him some day. But to deliberately reject what is plainly taught in the Bible is a dangerous game because God doesn’t change; he is what he is and we had better get used to it because he is righteous and we are not. If there is something about God that is uncomfortable to us then we have a problem and we need to ask God to give us a love for who he is not for who we wish he was.