On a weekend with another mass shooting in California and grief and outrage over the video of Tyre Nichols’s horrific death, watching the Philadelphia Eagles and Kansas City Chiefs win their playoff games yesterday was a welcome distraction for many.
Meanwhile, another story in the news is more culturally significant than it may seem.
A golden, eight-foot female sculpture wearing Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s signature lace collar now stands over the state courthouse in New York City. According to the New York Times, the sculptor titled her work “NOW” because “it was needed ‘now,’ at a time when women’s reproductive rights were under siege after the US Supreme Court in June overturned the constitutional right to abortion.”
Art history professor Claire Bishop called the sculpture “a magical hybrid plant-animal” and hoped that “maybe she can help channel us back to reinstating Roe v. Wade.” Critics see the sculpture in a very different light, some calling it a “hideous abortion idol” and even “demonic.”
“You shall have no other gods before me”
Idolatry is by definition “the worship of someone or something other than God as though it were God.” This sin violates the first of the Ten Commandments: “You shall have no other gods before me” (Exodus 20:3).
“Other gods” originally took the form of a “carved image” (v. 4). Today, our idols are seldom as visible as they were in Moses’ day. Nonetheless, we all have an “ultimate concern,” as philosophical theologian Paul Tillich observed.
If it is not the one true God, anything we serve in his place is our idol. From material success and financial prosperity to cultural popularity and a host of other “deities,” we are all tempted to worship something or someone who is not God.
Paradoxically, the more God meets our needs and blesses our lives, the more we tend to choose other gods to serve.
“We do not recognize the scale of his generosity”
St. John Fisher (1469–1535) was an English Catholic bishop, cardinal, and theologian who also served as Chancellor of the University of Cambridge. In a biblical commentary, he observed:
“God freed the people of Israel from slavery in Egypt with many signs and wonders. Then he led them across the Red Sea dry-shod; in the desert he fed them with food from heaven in the form of manna and quails; when they were thirsty he gave them an inexhaustible spring of water bubbling from the rock. He gave them victory over enemies that attacked them; he made the Jordan flow backwards for them; he took the land he had promised them and divided it between them according to their tribes and clans.
“Although he had dealt with them so lovingly and generously, the ungrateful people abandoned the worship of God, as if they had utterly forgotten everything, and shackled themselves with the crime of idol-worship—not once but many times.”
Consequently, in words that describe our culture even more than his, Fisher noted that we are “supremely ungrateful: we have gone far beyond the boundaries of all previous ingratitude. We pay no attention to God’s love, we do not recognize the scale of his generosity, but we spurn the source and giver of all these good things and practically hold him in contempt.
“Not even the outstanding mercy he shows to sinners moves us to order our lives and actions according to his holy law.”
“Status threat and envy”
Why do we do this?
A basic fact of our fallen nature is that we all seek to “be like God” (Genesis 3:5), to be in charge of our lives so we can do as we wish. As a result, we resist authority of any kind that tries to tell us who we are or how we should live.
This has never been more true than today. Our “post-truth” culture assures us we can define truth however we wish, do with our bodies (including those carrying unborn babies) whatever we wish, define gender and marriage as we wish, and end our lives whenever and however we wish.
In addition, psychologists report that when we receive help from those we perceive to be more competent than ourselves, “status threat and envy” arise and we are “likely to undermine help givers.” We “bite the hand that feeds us” because we resent our dependence on this “hand” and the control this dependence creates.
The passion of Christ’s love for you
The solution is both horizontal and vertical.
If you’re thinking only about your own best interests, ask yourself: Does it make sense to refuse the guidance of an omniscient Father who sees your future better than you can see your present? To refuse the help of an omnipotent Lord who can meet your every need by his grace?
Now let’s turn from our interests to our Savior. Reflect upon his decision in the Garden of Gethsemane to die to purchase your salvation. Consider the fact that, if you have trusted in him as your Savior and Lord, you will spend eternity in heaven rather than hell only because of his grace. Remember the last sin he forgave, the last prayer he answered.
Now take a moment to focus on Jesus himself. Envision him at the right hand of the Father as he intercedes this very moment for you (Romans 8:34). Feel the passion of his love for you.
To worship and serve anyone before Jesus is to choose idolatry and thus to “bite the hand that feeds you.” To love Jesus with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength and to serve him as your ultimate concern is to trust the hand that was crucified for you.
How will you respond to the outstretched hand of your Savior today?