Some of us are given idols we never asked to bow down before.
Some idols are born inside of us. Some of them are generational idols that we grow up with, never knowing anything other. Some of them are gained at vulnerable and impressionable moments: Your coach called you a failure? This ‘success idol’ is just the thing – spend your whole life trying to prove him wrong.
We build elaborate temples, even arrange entire city plans, to house these idols and accommodate them. We develop gargantuan schemes and visions in order to imagine the type of city we will construct around these idols and what they provide for us.
We didn’t necessarily ask for them. We didn’t exactly gain them in perfect freedom, with full awareness of the gravity of our actions. They were just there. And we keep them.
We keep them because we’re afraid that, without them, we won’t get what they promise us.
It is a form of denial, isn’t it? We are unwilling to feel the weight and the pain of what we have lost. We want to hold on to it tightly, to run from the pain and find a way to fulfill all that has been emptied.
Few of us are really so crassly vain that we truly just want grain and babies. And updating the language and the context doesn’t explain it for us either – our idols are not merely sex, drugs, or money. They are freedom from our past, they are the love we never had, they are a sense of purpose, they are the attention or the anger of the authority figures to whom we have something to prove.
We dream up cities, visions for our life, around the models of these idols. We chase after accolades, accomplishments, relationships. We pine after them with desperation, doing all we can to defend the walls and the city plan of the vision of life we have constructed around these little deities. We obscenely attempt to manipulate our world and the people in it. We turn into beings like those who fill our nightmares, we become caricatures and images of the idols we worship.
Indeed, this was partly my point with what I wrote about Robin Williams, in response to Matt Walsh’s…problematic… post. We are not a mere locus of free will, we are not merely a collection of choices made in a vacuum. I am enough of a Calvinist to believe firmly that we are born in sin. And beyond what we are born with, sins are inflicted upon us. We are whored out to idols that, if fully free, I’m not sure we would choose on our own. We are enslaved to sin, not just with a corruption inside of us, but as a fact of living in a sinful world where others hurt and manipulate us, where circumstances we were born into burden and bury us, where chemicals and genetics can bring us to a point of utter despair.
Although some of these idols were there from birth, or were gained under duress, they must be cleansed from us. They must be wrenched from our grasp.
We must watch our city, we must watch idol-ridden Jerusalem, crumble before our very eyes. We see her burn, and the visions we possessed waste away in death and decay and complete obliteration. We have to give up things we never thought we would have to give up, dreams we never imagined could be dashed.
Other people, or the mere facts of this sinful world, inflict terrible wounds upon us, and these bind us to idols promising to make up the difference: the approval we never had, the love we were supposed to have from our violator, the parent who was taken from us by disease or death or mental illness or their own mistakes, the mentor who cut us down. We feel like damaged goods. We believe that we deserve nothing better to be whored out to idols. And we thirst, we crave, to find healing for those wounds from these idols. We are afraid that if we lose those idols, we will lose ourselves. We will lose our opportunity to prove that we are not what we are afraid we are. We will lose our ability to build the city that will make up for all that was taken from us.
“I am the Lord; that is my name!
I will not yield my glory to another
or my praise to idols.
See, the former things have taken place,
and new things I declare;
before they spring into being
I announce them to you.” (Isaiah 42)
He desires to tear them all down. And it will hurt, oh how it will hurt. And the cost will seem ever greater as we go. It will go deeper and further than we ever imagined or realized it would. And there will be weeping – there will be weeping for all that was lost. We will weep the people we never were, the homes we never had, the peace we never had, the health we never had.
To all who mourn in Israel,
he will give a crown of beauty for ashes,
a joyous blessing instead of mourning,
festive praise instead of despair.
In their righteousness, they will be like great oaks
that the Lord has planted for his own glory. (Isaiah 61)
That weeping is the necessary mourning, the necessary letting to of the things that have controlled us. It is mourning the wounds, it is mourning the idols we were born with, it is mourning the life we desire but is not ours. It is mourning the vision, the dream, the plan we held in our minds. It is the mourning of repentance; handing over all that we have carried, even the things that were handed to us. It is the recognition that the missing pieces that these idols have attempted to fulfill are truly lost, and that is sad, and must be let go, instead of grasped in hopes that one day we will find a way to patch the hole.
“Fallen is Virgin Israel,
never to rise again,
deserted in her own land,
with no one to lift her up.” (Amos 5)
Subject yourself to His harsh, cleansing, grace. Let the idol-ridden Jerusalem go. Come to the point of utter brokenness, of full admission of your neediness. Come to the point where you realize that your plans and your schemes, and the idols you cling to and attempt to manipulate for the fulfillment of all that you lost, will avail nothing. Come to the point of utter destruction, with the plans and idols completely lost and taken from you.
And on the other side, you will be a new, gleaming, city of God. You will not be nothing, you will not be no one, nor will you be damaged or broken. You will not be all the things you are afraid of becoming. Having the city plans wrenched from your hands will not result in what you were so desperate to avoid. You will not become what your visions and city plans have been constructed to prevent.
You will be a city that carries God’s name, a city of gold.
In one of his novels (Looking for Alaska) John Green has a character conclude that the “labyrinth of suffering” – this convoluted maze of our world of suffering and tragedy, where victims and perpetrators get all lost and mixed together, where blame cannot really be doled out with any precision – can only be escaped by one thing: Forgiveness. We must simply forgive. We must forgive ourselves, and forgive others. We must accept that the labyrinth is a vague and twisted mess and we cannot think or analyze or adjudicate our way out of it. We cannot work our way through it by our own power. We cannot build our own idol-saturated Jerusalem to lead us out of the maze and the mess. We cannot live in denial of the labyrinth and thereby inhabit a fantastical city that offers us escape.
We must simply let it all go. We must simply let idol-ridden Jerusalem fall. We must let her be torn down, so that we will be built up again. We must simply let the hurt hurt, and release all that it represents – instead of trying to hold it together. We must let God do the harsh work of forgiveness, by which all our wounds and diseases and afflictions are not solved or fully understood or explained, but released. Not fixed by our striving, but mourned. Not allowed to be our defining vision of life, but deconstructed.
Not grasped, but given away.
“Come, let us return to the LORD. He has torn us to pieces but he will heal us; he has injured us but he will bind up our wounds.” (Hosea 6)