This year at La Trobe Christian Union, we keep circling around the theme of idolatry — or, put positively, of how it is we can trust in and put the living God above all.
I’ve suggested before that if we want to take seriously the biblical call to combat idolatry, then we must resist the temptation to refuse to have anything to do with any created thing that can be elevated to the position that God alone deserves. But our response to the recognition that some good created thing — like family or alcohol or sex — can be idolised ought never take the form of radical renunciation, a refusal (on principle) to have anything to do with it. For this would be to pit God against his good gifts to us in creation.
The obvious alternative is to receive God’s good gifts thankfully. And so to affirm the gift character of God’s creation. Thus relativising it before the one who graciously gives us every good thing to enjoy and share. That is the way to combat idolatry — not to reject alcohol, for example; but to receive it as God’s gift and to do with it as he wisely dictates.
But all this is easier said than done, isn’t it? The deep-rootedness of idolatry — which I would suggest we glimpse in a phenomenon like addiction — tells us as much. In his important article, ‘How to say YES to the World’, Andrew Cameron has a go explaining why:
We could almost say that God has made his world “too good”. We attach ourselves to aspects of it too hard: voraciously, intensely, obsessively, and destructively. The young man loves sex and freedom so much that he won’t give himself to a woman to welcome her babies, and both a sex industry and a strange logic of de facto relationships grow up to give him what he wants.
It’s not the objects of our desires that are suspect. Rather, it’s the way our desires run chaotically to excess. This is what explains why asceticism won’t work and why idolatry is so profoundly difficult to root out.