Wednesday, November 16, 2011
When I was sixteen years old my parents took me to Thailand. It was an eye-opening trip for me. Yes, I saw great poverty - children swimming, bathing and drinking dirty river water beside bloated, dead pigs - but the poverty wasn't the shock. The idol worship was.
Buddhism is the religion of choice in Thailand and amidst the incredible poverty were lavishly decorated temples, housing Buddha images cared for by priests. I can remember going on a boat ride down a river (that's where I saw the children and pigs) and, in the middle of what we would call worn-out, wooden shanties, a golden spire would arise high into the sky, indicating a temple where the poor could bring their last pennies to purchase gold leaf to rub on the Buddha's tummy.
If you walked up to one of the temples, you would see a shrine filled with food - the people would offer food to Buddha before they fed their own families. Needless to say, the priests were well fed and the children were starving.
But the people were relentless in their worship. The picture above is of the Emerald Buddha, an idol actually made of jade and clothed in gold, that sits atop a platform in a temple. The temple is massive and ornate. The Buddha is only about 24 inches high, but the faithful buddhists will make long journeys to come and worship at the base of this platform. It was really shocking to see - the faithfulness of a nation to a false worship system.
I can remember thinking that Christians in America were not this zealous. I thought that if all believers could see the passion of the buddhists, they would be shamed into sobering up about their walk with Christ. But at least we didn't worship idols...
Thirty years later, I've come to the realization that I was wrong. We do worship idols. They're just not visible - they are mental idols. They are tiny, little images that we set up on a high platform in our hearts. Daily we sit at the base of the platform and worship the idol.
For some of us it is the longing for what we did not have - a loving father, a safe childhood, a stable home life. For others of us, it is a longing for what we want right now - an attentive, faithful husband, a better job, an education, a different shaped body, a clear complexion, a closet full of attractive clothes, a new car. And still, for others it is a longing for a specific future - a house, a husband and babies, an easy life, notoriety, retirement.
Idols of the heart - and boy, do we relentlessly worship these idols. As believers, we have learned how to set our minds on the things above - not on Jesus but on that high platform. We justify our desires by acting like God wants these things for us as well - if they are good things, why wouldn't He want them for us? So we fixate, we pine away, we long for, we pray for, we focus on and justify our actions by denying the idol exists.
It may be small, but it still has a powerful effect on us. These desires of the heart, when placed on anything other than Jesus, are idols. Ultimately idol worship produces frustration, aggression, anger, depression, sorrow and melancholy. Some of us attain our idols but the worship doesn't stop there because idols never satisfy. So we replace them with another longing - a more fulfilling one - and then we pursue that one. It's a terrible cycle and because it's housed in our hearts, we think no one sees what we are worshipping.
But God sees and others see and the only person we're fooling is ourselves.
So, when it comes to idol worship, what should we do?