You search the Scriptures because you think they give you eternal life. But the Scriptures point to me! Yet, you refuse to come to me to receive this life – John 5:39-40
The famous English preacher once quipped that the traditional church in England, the C of E, believes in God the Father, Son and Holy Scriptures. Perhaps unkind, but there is an element of truth in it.
This passage in John comes after the religious leaders of the day had begun harassing Jesus for healing a man on the Sabbath. So blinded by their own indignation were they, that they couldn’t see the miraculous when it stood before them. What’s it all about? Well, many things happened at the fall of man, but one of the most devastating was our pursuit of idolatry. “There is a God-shaped void in every human,” says Lewis, and we will find almost anything to fill it. Believers are not immune either, in fact they can be awful offenders in this area.
A read through the Old Testament will show you that idolatry was Israel’s fundamental sin and one which led to their exile in 597BC. They pursued other Gods with vigour, even from the time when they were in Egypt. God spells it out to them with crystal clarity in Isaiah, when he asks them how something fashioned by human hands can possibly replace him, who created all things. But, however they tried, they simply could not help themselves and their story is one of being continually sucked into the void of neighbouring countries Gods, fashioned from human hands.
And of us? Surely in our modern sophistication, with our disdain of the supernatural and simple culture such as back then, we couldn’t possibly pursue idols? We have access to science and the truth. Then, there is the church, with all her splendour, buildings, history, tradition; not to mention the access she now has to riches and techniques to get even more, well defined programmes to lure others in and the vast machinery that comes with any modern corporate institution.
In this passage the idols had changed, the religious leaders had swapped wooden images for the Law, but the outcome was the same, a life far from contentment; instead they had one that was complex, self-centred and riddled with angst. The idolatrous life demands that others follow our path, it is the consummate self-centred and self-righteous way. Political leaders ascend to their own thrones and demand allegiance, money screams ‘more’ to us as we throw our lives into making piles of it and even the church demands we subscribe to doctrine and dogma, ‘ours is the only way.’ We counsel married couples who idolise each other, and in the process strangle their marriage to death.
There is a tiny and deadly passage in the second book of Kings where God says that people who worship worthless idols, in time become worthless themselves. Imagine, God who made people in his own image, calling them worthless, suitable only for the fire and the scrapheap. It is a devastating statement, but the ultimate outcome of worshipping something else.
What is the opposite of idolatry? It would seem to me that perhaps contentment might be. In case you’ve missed it, the Gospel of Jesus, from the first verses of Matthew to the end of Jude, spell out a Christ who forsook all the heavenly glory to come to earth as man, and show us how to live. His devotion to the Father led him to a life of simplicity and contentment, in spite of the awesome power he displayed from time to time.
The prevention from us becoming idolatrous, whether it be with secular or our religious pursuits, is to devote ourselves to Christ. Never is it spelt out so clearly to us than here, where he says that even those who read their Bible expecting anything other than a relationship with him are liable to be misled. All of Scripture points to the centrality of Jesus Christ, and he is the answer and the antidote to our tendency. We must devote ourselves not only to reading and listening to him, but to behaving like him as well. He demands that we pursue him at all times, that we be filled with his Spirit anew each day, that we adopt his love for others, his devotion to God and that we relate to him every day, even every moment of our lives.
I have discovered a secret in my life, and it is this; when he is the centre of all of my life, then my problems in life, which can appear many, lose their sting. Whenever my focus is shifted away from him, my life drifts out of kilter.
Each of us must ask everyday of our lives, what have I replaced him with, what else is there in my life that has dethroned the only one that can bring me that contentment? If you are uncertain, ask him. In my experience he will hold it up in front of me in the next few days of my life so that I am left in no doubt.
Friends don’t refuse to come to him, he offers a life so free, free of idols especially. He must be our all. Everything else leads us to death.