Friday, September 04, 2009

it's not about breaking the rules

Lately I have been reminded of something about myself: I am pretty prone to idolatry. Not so much the carving images out of wood variety of idolatry, or the kind that has platinum hubcaps or custom plates. My idolatry tends to be a little less visible, but it is there all the same. It is more in line with what the dictionary calls idolatry: "blind or excessive adoration of something" often something that is "visible but without substance". In many ways, I simply have an addictive personality, a tenacious devotion to the people and things I value. I am an all or nothing kind of kid, to be sure; it is both a strength and a weakness. Sadly, I often get mixed up on which things get my all, and which ones get my nothing.

Most of the time when I am confronted with my tendency for misdirected devotion, I feel my conscience chide me for breaking the law of the Torah: "You shall have no other gods before me." I live a pretty rules oriented life, unfortunately, and so I process most failures as simply an inability to live up to the standard of the law. This time around, however, has been a little different. I am seeing the same problem through a different lens.

Recently, God has been doing some pretty amazing things in and around me. He has answered prayers in ways that have dropped by jaw, and has sent confirmations and encouragements from the most unexpected places. It has been a sweet time of sensing him walk closely with me. His kindness toward me has been undeniably relational and undeserved. Now, as I again feel the pull toward idolatry, this kindness sets a new backdrop. Idolatry is not a law that condemns me. No, idolatry is a lie that cheats me.

Even in the midst of sweet expressions of love from the Father, I find myself reaching toward my most common idol: people. I want a love that is tangible sometimes. I want it in writing I can read, a photo I can stick on my bulletin board to look at when work feels depressing. Those aren't necessarily bad things. In fact, those very things are often expressions of love from God ("every good and perfect gift comes from above"). The problem comes when I offer those people--those words, those pictures, those phone calls--my "blind and excessive devotion." The problem comes when they, rather than God, consume my thoughts and efforts. And the problem is this: those things are always going to fail me at some point. They are only a shadow of the love that is steady and reliable. No matter how sweet those sources of love are to me today, there will be a day when I find that they fall woefully short, and I will be crushed, because I threw my all into them.

But like I said: this isn't a law thing for me right now. It's not a shameful violation of standard for me to put all my eggs into an unreliable basket. Instead, it is the sad exchange of what is better for what is only good. And the love of God is always better--better than life, if you ask the Psalmist. Better than any letter in the mail or photo on my bulletin board. It is the great reality behind those shadows, and the framework in which I am meant to enjoy them and yet not rely on them. The God who is love is the only safe and worthy place to offer my "excessive (even blind!) adoration." May I let him capture that tenacious devotion in me, and allow him to take my addictive personality and satisfy it with the only thing that won't ever leave me dry. As I wrote once before, may I choose to live a live that speaks aloud: "The love of God is better."

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