When Your Idol Falls
Losing hurts. This week our country has a lot of hurting and disappointed people in it. During the time between loss and acceptance, fear can derail our lives. It can become despair if turned inward and rage if turned outward on the world. As a little green Jedi master once warned, “Fear leads to anger. Anger leads to hate. Hate leads to suffering.”
I’m not devoting this space to an autopsy of the election or the estrangement that politics has caused between Americans of divergent passions. The real story here is the poison of idolatry, a sin we commit when we replace God with any person, possession, or aspiration as our primary motive for living, our reason to be assured that everything is all right. It happens, unconsciously or not, when we fail to worship the being we were made to worship.
Only God can fulfill the expectations we lay on him to provide for us. There is no other like him or equal to him (Exodus 15:11 NKJV). He never changes (Hebrews 13:8) because perfection doesn’t decrease and can’t be improved. Nothing is too hard for him (Jeremiah 32:27). He expects us to have hope about the future because of him (Jeremiah 29:11). He rightfully demands to rule our hearts because his good intentions for us are fulfilled only when he does.
Contrast his nature with human beings. We are all alike, made from the same clay, equally valued and fallible; we change all the time, seized by emotions or blinded by desires; we fail and mess up; we pursue our own interests. We get sick. We age, decay, and die. I don’t need verses to support this.
The Psalmist tells us, frankly, “It is better to trust in the Lord than to put confidence in princes” (118:9). We also hear there is “no help” in man, for when he dies, “in that very day his plans perish” with him (146:3-4). Yet we continue to fasten our hopes for victory and redemption on athletes, politicians, or even ourselves. Inevitably the disparity between hope and outcome disillusions us. Either we latch immediately on another idol, such as the knowledge of a better possibility in the future (I imagine the Cubs practiced this plenty during the last century), or, more dangerously, we allow our loss to push us toward depravity. We become consumed with hatred against our opponents and pride that we know better than God how the world should be. This ugliness progresses to emotional collapse and the seeking of comfort outside the knowledge that God loves you. Here is where alcoholism and addiction begin. Here is not where God wants you.
In the Gospel of Luke, Jesus visits Martha and Mary, two sisters whom he knows well. While Mary sits at Jesus’s feet and listens to him, her sister is “distracted with much serving” (10:40) and finally approaches Jesus to ask that he make Mary help her. Jesus answers, “Martha, Martha, you are worried and troubled about many things. But one thing is needed, and Mary has chosen that good part, which will not be taken away from her” (v. 41-42).
Notice that Jesus doesn’t tell Martha the household is unimportant. It is. So are elections, sports (to some folks, I guess), and money. But he is telling her that only “one thing” (a relationship with God) is truly needed to know that life is all right. It’s the only thing that can’t be taken from you by death or loss.
This election was very significant, and God’s love for you is not the only thing that matters. But it is the thing which matters most.
Anthony Otten has published stories in Jabberwock Review, Valparaiso Fiction Review, Wind, Still: The Journal, and others. He has been a finalist for the Hargrove Editors' Prize in Fiction. He lives in Kentucky.
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