My rating: 4 of 5 stars
If you struggle with anger, or anxiety, or depression, or worry, or envy, or fear, or if you have any marriage or relationship struggles – I strongly recommend that you read this book or listen to the 9 sermons it came from (especially the first 3). This is the best teaching on idols of the heart I’ve ever heard. I would love it if everyone in my church read this book. It would certainly make my job as a pastor a whole lot easier.
Definition of Idolatry
I do, however, have two points of disagreement with the book. Bigney At one point later in the series he says that when we make idols of good desires (like ministry or your spouse), the problem is that you desire that thing too much. I disagree. I think the problem isn’t desiring it too much, but rather having desire terminate on that thing, rather than enjoying that thing as an expression of God’s love.
For example, imagine a newly married wife wants to express her love to her husband, so when he arrives home from work she has his favorite meal prepared for him. He sees the meal, interprets it exactly for the expression of love that it is, and it brings him to tears. He gives his wife a huge hug and kiss.
Now imagine that 20 years later the marriage has gone downhill. Now he comes home, sees the meal, and sits down to eat without so much as saying hello to his wife or even acknowledging that she’s in the room. He scarfs it down, thoroughly enjoys it, and the only thing he says to his wife is, “Go make me some dessert.”
What is the problem? Is it that he enjoys the meal too much and needs to learn to enjoy it less? No. The problem is he is enjoying it the wrong way. His desire terminates on the food rather than using the food to enjoy his wife’s love. In the first case, when he enjoyed the meal the right way, it was good that he enjoyed it a lot. In fact, when he enjoys it that way, the more he enjoys it the better.
So when we make idols out of good things like marriage or ministry, the problem is not that we desire those things too much. The problem is we desire them the wrong way – we are looking to those things as joy sources rather than expressions of God’s love. So our enjoyment in enjoyment of those things rather than enjoyment of God through those things.
The Solution to Man-Pleasing
My second critique has to do with the problem of making an idol out of the approval of others. The solution Bigney offers is that of realizing I have God’s love and approval. I don’t need others to affirm me because God affirms me.
There is certainly nothing wrong with enjoying God’s approval, and love. We most definitely should do that. But we must be careful about why we seek that approval. Is it to validate our self-importance, or is it to enjoy God’s love?
If my biggest goal is self-importance, then it’s no great virtue for me to pursue that goal through God’s affirmation rather than human affirmation. Either way, my desire terminates on me being important. Much greater joy is to be found through delighting in God’s mportance. If I give up my desire to be on stage and receive all the shouts and applause, and I prefer instead to be one of the shouting, clapping fans who is thrilled by what he is watching on the stage (God), I will be much happier.
Romans 12:3 gives us the solution to pride: each one must think of himself in accordance with the measure of faith given him. That means my importance depends on how much I trust in God. My importance is not based on how much others think I’m worth, and not even so much on how much I’m worth to God, but rather on how much God is worth to me. Whoever values God the highest – that’s the greatest soul.
Imagine a group of chefs who all desire fame. And they know that the best way to become famous is to win the “Chef of the year” award from the world’s greatest chef. So they all go to his school. But that great chef cares about these people and he knows that there is no real happiness in achieving fame. It promises happiness but doesn’t deliver. It just makes your life hard. And what he wants is for them to be truly happy. So he sets up the chef of the year award so that the only way to win it is by enjoying his cooking. Every night he makes an amazing dinner. Students are encouraged to enjoy the meals, learning to appreciate the various flavors. At the end of the class, each person is hooked up to a meter that detects pleasure sensations in the body. Whoever reaches the highest levels of pleasure while eating the great chef’s food wins the chef of the year award. That way, the great chef knows that each chef will be striving for greater and greater enjoyment and will go away happy and satisfied (rather than having all the disappointment that goes with becoming famous and then realizing that it doesn’t satisfy).
When I find the idol in my heart of the craving to have people make much of me (to be famous in their sight), the solution is not to turn that desire toward God so that God will make much of me. That won’t work. First, because I know that God loves and accepts all His children, so His loving and accepting me won’t satisfy my desire to be famous or to be on stage receiving applause.
The solution is for me to change my focus from desiring the joy of being applauded, to the much greater joy of applauding a spectacularly wonderful thing – the glory and goodness and beauty of God. People pay money at a theater, not to stand in front of the audience but to be in it. They shell out their hard-earned dollars at a concert not to be on stage but to enjoy what is on stage. So we must exchange our desire to be affirmed for the enjoyment of affirming that which is truly marvelous.
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