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We Become What We Worship

Everyone worships something. 

There is no immunity from worship no matter what your view of God is. Specifically, the point is that we naturally “worship” what we love. Biblical scholar G.K. Beale has a whole book on the theology of idolatry in the Bible titled We Become What We Worship (no light reading for sure). Dr. Beale didn’t come up with this nifty title on his own. I imagine he was inspired by Scripture:

“Their idols are silver and gold, the work of human hands. They have mouths, but do not speak; eyes, but do not see. They have ears, but do not hear; noses, but do not smell. They have hands, but do not feel; feet, but do not walk; and they do not make a sound in their throat. Those who make them become like them; so do all who trust in them.” 

(Psalms 115:4–8 ESV)

When Westerners think of idols, we may think of figurines or statues typical of the Eastern (or even Southern) Hemisphere peoples. We might think ancient; but not modern; primitive; not industrial; or even superstitious; but not reasonable. 

As sophisticated urbanites who see National Geographic-esque portrayals of tribal deities in the Majority World, we might think: “Not us.” But if the Bible written so long ago and is sufficient and relevant for us today says much about idolatry, should not we assume that idolatry is our problem, too?

Jesus said it in different words: “where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.” If your cell phone gets lost, your wifi goes down or your Ring doorbell glitches while you’re out of the house, we may get a glimpse into your heart. 

The late revered Dr. John Calvin has famously been quoted to say: “the human mind is, so to speak, a perpetual forge [factory] of idols.” In his day and age, he may have been saying this in the contextual “stew” of Romish and Popish idolatries. But he goes on as if he were sitting with us today:  

The human mind, stuffed as it is with presumptuous rashness, dares to imagine a god suited to its own capacity; as it labors under dullness, nay, is sunk in the grossest ignorance, it substitutes vanity and an empty phantom in the place of God. To these evils another is added. The god whom man has thus conceived inwardly he attempts to embody outwardly. The mind, in this way, conceives the idol, and the hand gives it birth. That idolatry has its origin in the idea which men have, that God is not present with them unless his presence is carnally exhibited.

Idols don’t just appear (Exodus 32:24) or drop out of the sky (Acts 19:35). They are formed and fashioned. They are conceived as the psalm above attests. And then they are cherished and coddled. They are bowed to. In other words, they are worshiped. But they aren’t so adored neutrally. 

In our day and age, idols are anything that emptily and/or ignorantly substitute for God. It can be a thing, an idea; an imagination; a person. It can be a whole complex of these. We may not personally take a hammer to anvil along with some silver and bang out something that we literally genuflect to. But, we constantly are capable of pumping out affections or allegiances toward things that comfort, amuse, distract or secure us.

This is exactly what Dr. Beale says in book:

“People will always reflect something, whether it be God's character or some feature of the world. If people are committed to God, they will become like him; if they are committed to something other than God, they will become like that thing, always spiritually inanimate and empty like the lifeless and vain aspect of creation to which they have committed themselves.”

As Christians today, we are like those to whom St. Paul wrote: “...how you turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God…” (1 Thessalonians 1:9). We are no longer slaves to any other god or idol. But, our hearts (to Calvin’s point) still have potential to reenact our former slavery. Though we are saved from bondage to any idolatry, we are not immediately saved from the attraction to some idols. With the saints of the ages, let us fight the magnetism by “hating worthless idols and simply trust in the Lord” (Psalm 31:6).

Posted by Will Pareja with

Some Thoughts on Sexual Abuse

When it comes to the arena of sexual abuse or assault, we as the church need to listen better to survivors and then speak more. The trauma suffered whether once or multiple times among many other things robs the victim of their ability to voice their pain. But even getting to the point of listening may take time and lots of trust built up over time.

Not for a second do I pretend to understand what a sexual assault victim has endured; nor, do I assume the seat of the various other professionals who are poised to help these silent sufferers (like case workers, therapists and attorneys). However, I am learning that Jesus’ church has a place in offering the redemptive healing power of the Gospel for the sexually violated. 

Here are some follow-ups to last Sunday’s talk on sexual abuse:

    • Listen and believe. I mean, why should an abuse survivor believe that anyone will listen? They’ve probably been shut down before. Andrew Schmutzer, a survivor and advocate writes: “Unbelievable experiences tend to create unwanted testimonies.” In other words, people who can’t be believed will not be wanted to testify.
    • Listen more, believe and weep. Often what you initially see or hear is just the tip of the iceberg. This may come more naturally for some than others, but being so moved in mind and heart that you can cry for them— while it won’t change the past— will communicate redemptive empathy. 
    • Believe (genuinely) and become an advocate, a voice, for the person. This is where the “speaking more” part comes in. With the survivor’s permission, you should take up their cause and even stake your own reputation on what is right. This is true especially where children are concerned, but the sad reality is many abused children don’t give voice to their own trauma until they're  much older.
    • As of the first of the this year (2020), the Illinois statute of limitations on sexual abuse cases has been lifted. That is a right weapon of justice for those on whom the legal time clock and possibilities for reparation and justice has past. 
    • Christians and churches aren’t immune to this evil and need to face the music. There shouldn’t be “even a hint” (Ephesians 5:3) of ANY sexual deviance in Christ’s church. When there is, the church must deal with it. If it’s criminal and illegal, they must swiftly report and work with local authorities. 
    • Cultures of male dominance whether or not they existed during biblical epochs have almost always lent toward the minimization or abuse of women. Therefore, they are wrong. For a Gospel corrective to cultures of dominance, check out Jesus in Mark 10:42-45. 
    • Though the abuser statistics sadly skew heavily male, women can abuse, too. Think of the classic case of a high school teacher who grooms one of her unsuspecting, male students. Or, for a sordid biblical example see Genesis 19 of adult daughters to their father.
    • Abusers tend to be skilled manipulators. 
    • Sexual abuse is not just body, soul and spiritual. It’s an attack on gender. This is what Robert Kelleman says: “We are female or male not only in our bodies, but also in the essence of our souls, our selves, our personhood. Sexual abuse abuses the female soul and body or a male soul and body.” 
    • Sexual abuse survivors may have future trouble on what Schmutzer calls “the intimacy spectrum.” That is, “what is awakened in the arena of terror is not easily transferred to the realm of delights.” 
    • Forgiveness and justice are two different things. If we were to look back to the example of David and his sin with Bathsheba. God indeed forgave him, but David still had to endure the consequences of the sin. See the end of 2nd Samuel 12.
    • Forgiveness and reconciliation aren’t mutually exclusive. Just because a victim may forgive their abuser doesn’t mean their relationship is automatically restored. It won’t ever be the same. And, as Schmutzer wisely points out: “Christian organizations have been the most reluctant to accept that a confessing abuser doesn’t heal the abused.”

That’s enough for now. It was random, I know, but the conversation MUST keep going and our consciousness ever awakened. May God have mercy on us all.

Posted by Will Pareja with

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