Much has been written lately about our subtle, invisible idols. These false gods manifest themselves when we put our politics above the gospel, the U.S. flag above the cross or our cultural assumptions above the values of Christ’s Kingdom.
But perhaps these descriptions of idolatry are too theoretical and need to be brought to down to earth in ways which are easier for us to identify. Let’s name these false deities security, convenience and control. And please understand. These are not three separate gods. They are the same idols, simply described in different ways, each highlighting different connotations and pointing in slightly different trajectories.
History continues to bear out the maxim that given the choice between freedom and security, many people prefer the latter. We love order and stability. Change threatens us. A man approached his pastor after morning worship and admonished the young preacher, “Your job is to tell me everything is OK.” The pastor responded, “What if it isn’t OK?” “Then lie to me,” snapped the gentleman.
Have you ever noticed that many of us photoshop our memories? We remember a better time in our nation, in our church or in our family. But we conveniently omit parts. So long as we crave the pseudosecurity of a perfect, bygone era, we will never be open to new people, new ways or new living.
It’s interesting that when the disciples asked Jesus, “Lord, is this the time when you will restore the kingdom to Israel?” (note the assumption behind the word “restore”), Jesus replied that the Holy Spirit was coming (Acts 1:6). Frankly, that was anything but a pledge of sameness or security. In fact, it was a bit terrifying, because God’s Spirit is often The Great Disturber.
True, we fear change because we are afraid of the unknown. But we also fear change because it is likely to unseat us as the person in charge. There it is — the great god control! How we love it. But it’s all a mirage. We never were in charge. When I was nine years old, my father let me “drive” the tractor as he plowed the field. I thought I was in charge. But I really wasn’t. I’m guessing that as I sat on my father’s lap on that H Farmall, he was smiling.
I didn’t realize how much I idolize convenience until we recently had the floors redone in our 21-old house. Disruption was everywhere. Furniture and appliances were moved. I couldn’t find my socks. I couldn’t find my Cheerios. Nothing was convenient. Everything was an ordeal. What tragedy and hardship!
The great god convenience — electronic tithing, TV and DVR remote controls, garage door openers, coffee makers programmed to come on at sunrise, selfdriving cars, auto-correct for our iPhones.
Could it be that our addiction to convenience in the physical world has spilled over into our mental and spiritual worlds? Let’s face it. Critical thinking is hard work. Struggling with the nuances of various ethical issues is tough. It’s easier to allow our favorite cable TV host or a mesmerizing pulpiteer to spoon-feed us. Someone else can tell us what to think.
Describing recent brain research, someone recently remarked that the human brain is lazy. It takes what we give it and creates order accordingly. In the words of Abraham Heschel, we should never accept our prejudices as solutions.
If we can begin to recognize the subtle gods security, control and convenience, we might do better separating nationalism from discipleship and bigotry from the Bible. So the next time you walk into your worship space, check your idols at the door. If you listen closely to the gospel during that hour, you might discover you don’t need those trinket gods as much as you thought you did.
Doyle Sager is lead pastor of First Baptist Church in Jefferson City, Mo.