Here is the second in the series of talks.
I hope you all have a very good weekend. It is all about to start in earnest here with the Maundy Thursday Supper! I know many of you will be very busy indeed. Don't get too tired!
Talk Two: Modern Day Idolatry
Idolatry, that is the worship of idols or images, was just a normal part of everyday life in the ancient world at the time of the New Testament. The Jews rejected it, but they were a comparatively small minority who kept themselves to themselves. The Christians, however, saw it as their task to tell the world about the living and true God, who they believed had created everyone. We are all his offspring, they told people, and ‘in him we live and move and have our being’ - whether we realize it or not.
The images and idols that people worshipped were just substitutes for the real thing; substitutes, which turned out to be no substitute at all. We adopted them when we stopped thinking clearly and fell into error. Today we pat ourselves on the back that we do not worship images as such any more. We don’t have pagan temples at the heart of our cities and sacrifices to pagan gods are not part of the daily routine of city life.
Paul, I think would not see our position quite so positively. He believed that images and idolatry were what came after worship of the living and true God had been abandoned. It was, if you like, the next step down the ladder. At least, however, the pagans with their idols were reaching out in search of something. They knew that this world is not all that there is and that there is a spiritual reality beyond us, a reality every bit as real as the physical world we inhabit. Paul thought that their foolish minds had become darkened so that they could not see the truth, but at least they saw that there was truth to search for.
We have gone one step further down the ladder. Not only have we been foolish, we have become total fools. We now deny the evidence of our own eyes and pretend that there is no spiritual reality. We even act as if this foolishness is cleverness. But still we need something to take the place of the God and the reality we deny. Instead now of making gods of things in the world around us we have made gods of our physical appetites and desires, we have internalised our idolatry, but idolatry it still is. Worship is not simply about where we go to sacrifice. It is about the whole of our lives. About the values we live by and what we consider to be important.
We pursue money, career, ambition and status. Sex, pleasure, and possessions are given a significance that it is hard for them to bear. Our new shrines are the malls and arcades where we try to blot out the feeling that there must be more to life than what we can buy, eat, drink or experience. The consequences of our lifestyles and the effects of our new idolatry are there for all to see no less than was the idolatry of Athens when Paul visited it. Drunkenness, obesity, debt, disease, family breakdown and social disintegration are all the consequences of the new idolatry.
The Bible calls us to return to our right minds. To see that the denial of God and the rejection of spiritual reality rather than being a sign of intelligence and progress is rather an irrational rejection of the evidence of the world around us. It is the fool who says in his heart that there is no god and living without god brings only pain, sadness, and loneliness.
The time has come to tear down our altars and to return to the living and true God, who alone can bring peace, purpose and fulfilment.
How are we to find this God? The message of Easter is that he is revealed not in the writings of the philosophers and intellectuals, not in the experiments and discoveries of the scientist and scholars, nor in the sayings of the wise and famous, rather he is revealed in the person nailed to a Cross. In the same way that we rejected knowledge of our Creator in favour of first the image and the idol, and then of our appetites and desires so we rejected the One who came to reveal that Creator to us and to call us back to the living and true God, who alone can satisfy our deepest needs and longings. But still God waits for us and in Christ offers us the chance to know him once again.