Empty Hopes and a Sovereign Savior
Diagnosing the Problem
I can’t discern which comes first, discontentment or idolatry. It seems like the two feed upon one another. When I am discontent I am so tempted and prone to turn to things that are not God for comfort, encouragement, hope to save me from pain, melancholy, and despair. Simply put, I turn to created things to give me life. And Yet I also know the product from me turning to created things to give me what they were never intended to give me is discontentment, pain, melancholy, and despair. These are the confessions of a Christian who finds himself fundamentally guilty of the same sins as the polytheist.
Martin Luther taught that the reason the first commandment was against idolatry was because it was impossible to break the other nine without first committing idolatry. The monk turned protestant was certainly on to something. And I agree with him. John Calvin, a contemporary to Luther, stated, “The human heart is a factory of idols.”
So what is idolatry? Whenever anything or anyone captures our heart, mind, and/or affections more than God we are guilty of idolatry. And Hopelessness is a sure sign symptom that someone has a bad-case of idolatry. The more devoted the worshipper the harder the crash or despair.
The danger is idolatry is that we rarely make idols out of straight up evil things. In fact our idols never are. Idolatry fundamentally takes the good things God made and perverts and twist them.
“To the pure all things are pure. But to the defiled and unbelieving, nothing is pure, but both their minds and their consciences are defiled.” (Titus 1:15 ESV)
Did you see the connection between unbelief and defiling? When we fail to believe in God, we defile or profane good things. Idolatry seeks to turn a created thing into a god. It pursues a created thing to yield what only God can give. To profane something is to treat something with irreverence or disrespect. And when we put the responsibility of our happiness on a cheeseburger we are doing just that. But why do we do this? Why do we put our hope, happiness, comfort, encouragement, joy, and ultimately our lives in the hands of created things?
Wrong Thinking Leads to Wrong Worship
Today we live in a functionally polytheistic culture (poly- many; theo- god). Allow me to explain. To argue this, I must begin with the truth and then we can identify the perversion of it known as Polytheism.
First, The Christian Worldview believes that there is only One God who exist eternally in three distinct but not separate persons (Father, Son, and the Holy Spirit). Second, This God created everything. He made the heavens and the earth. He made that which is seen and unseen. He made angels and men. He made plants and animals. He made the sea and dry land. There is nothing that was made that He did not make. Third, God not only made everything but also sustains everything. In other words, everything is dependent upon Him. Fourth, God is separate and distinct from that which is created. Though everything points to His glory and is a manifestation of His attributes, it must also be remembered that God is wholly other than that which is created. Fifth, therefore everything receives its: value, purpose, function, ability (power), and results from God and apart from God; everything and everyone have none of these attributes intrinsically.
Polytheism fundamentally does not believe in two forms of existence. It denies there is one God who is supreme over everything and everyone. Instead all things are on the same plane. Some things will have more value, power, or influence. But there is no supreme wholly other source from which everything comes. Rather Polytheism believes that persons and things in and of itself possess their own intrinsic value, power, function, etc. Therefore, polytheist (those who believe in polytheism) will give themselves to money, sex, relationships, causes, work, and etc. This is because polytheist believe there is something to be gained from created things in and of themselves. They believe those created things are a source of themselves.
When we fail to recognize that all created things are mere windows for us to look through in order that we may behold the Glory of God we are thinking and acting like a polytheist. When we fail to recognize that no created thing is meant to be a path to itself but rather a path that leads us to the true end; worship of the Supreme Sovereign Creator. Then we are guilty of polytheism. When we fight wars over whose god is more important or more powerful to bring unity, peace, happiness, and life to all things. We are playing the polytheist. And when we do this, we fail to see that no god or combinations of gods (a created thing with limitations) is big enough to do this. Polytheist are bound for disappointment. Because Polytheist give themselves to so many things and none of those things can deliver.
Sadly, because there are endless possible gods in a polytheist world, they never run out of possible new options to chase after. “Perhaps,” the polytheist thinks, “that I had the wrong combination of gods. I need to exchange the god of career for a god of family. And maybe I should put a little more effort into the god of fitness and a little less worship into the god of chocolate.”
Jonah 2:8 (ESV) says, “Those who pay regard to vain idols forsake their hope of steadfast love.”
Created things have limitations. And so they can only offer you what God has assigned or ordained for them to offer you. No god will be able to give you “steadfast love.” And so, everyone who chooses the polytheistic path also chooses to turn away from the only One who can give “steadfast love.” This is why God’s call to repentance is a call of love. He is calling us away from destruction and to life everlasting.
Salvation Belongs to the LORD!
There is only one God. And that God in and of Himself is intrinsically: all-powerful; all-knowing, all-present; infinite in beauty; and is the designer; creator; and sustainer of all things. This God is infinite in love. He is the source of all good things! Therefore this God is worthy of ALL our hope, faith, love, and devotion. In fact, God rightfully demands it from us. However, in this case, its good news that He calls us to this kind of devotion. Jonah 2:9 explains why.
“But I with the voice of thanksgiving will sacrifice to you; what I have vowed I will pay. Salvation belongs to the LORD!”
We learned in the last post that Jonah foolishly tried to run from God who made the heavens and the earth; the sea and dry land. But God was prepared to move heaven and earth to make sure nothing stood between Him and Jonah. Not even Jonah’s rebellious heart could come between God and Jonah. God humbled and broke Jonah and brought him to nothing so that Jonah would recognize his “vain” hope was no different than that of the “vain idols” of the sailors. And after God had humbled Jonah and brought Him to nothing then God showed Jonah that He alone gives life and He alone saves. Here’s how Jonah 2:6 says it,
“I went down to the land whose bars closed upon me forever; yet You brought up my life from the pit, O LORD my God.”
God hurled a great wind into the sea. Then God hurled Jonah into the deeps of the sea. And when Jonah had finally hit rock bottom (pun intended) God called a great fish to do His bidding and save Jonah. Jonah’s participation in his deliverance was NOTHING. Even Jonah’s prayer is a prayer of “thanksgiving” “from the belly of the fish” after he had been saved. And all of this was to demonstrate to Jonah and to us today that “salvation belongs to the LORD!” And to demonstrate to us that “those who pay regard to vain idols forsake their hope of steadfast love.”
God saved Jonah by hurling all of Jonah’s idols into the sea. And when Jonah found there was nothing left to rest his foot upon, he found himself in the sea sinking down…down…down. And it was there that Jonah found his feet rest upon the sure foundation and rock the LORD. Perhaps if Jonah knew the hymn he would have sang, “On Christ the Solid rock I stand, all other ground is sinking sand, all other ground in sinking sand.”
God saves us the same way from our idols today. God turns us over to our idols, allows them to crush us, disappoint us, disillusion us, afflict us, and abandon us. And when we have found we have nowhere else to turn. We see Christ as that sure rock and foundation. We find Him as the source of ALL life.
Simon Peter answered Him (Jesus), “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life, and we have believed, and have come to know, that you are the Holy One of God.” (John 6:68-69 ESV)
How foolish it would have been for Jonah after being saved to worship the great fish rather than the God who sent it. That would be polytheism. Indeed, this is the very god the Ninevites worshipped. Dagon, the god of the fish. But Jonah, by God’s grace, believed in the One to whom the great fish pointed to. Let us not be people so foolish and wicked to run from the “steadfast love” of the LORD. Let us run from all our “vain idols” and into the sovereign unfailing love of God our Savior!
“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven”
–Jesus Christ (Matthew 5:3 ESV)