In the Reformed blogosphere, the following C.S. Lewis quote ends up in about 30% of all posts:
It would seem that Our Lord finds our desires not too strong, but too weak. We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased.
The quote is often used to cattle prod Christians away from idolatry of the heart. You know what I’m talking about. When you love something too much, it’s like choosing mud pies in the nasty slums over a holiday at the glorious beach. The thing you love too much is the mud pie, God is the beach, and if you love someone, let them go. Scratch that last part.
I think we should probably stop using this quote…at least in the way we normally use it.
*hears rumblings in the audience, sees them pulling tomatoes out of their pockets*
But why? Why stop using a quote that so vividly captures the essence of idols compared to the living God?
Because Lewis Wasn’t Primarily Talking About Christian Idolatry
In context, he was rejecting the idea that Christianity is primarily about self-denial.
In other words, he’s saying, “You think Christianity is all about self-denial? You’re insane! Following Christ is all about staggering reward! About holidays by the sea and glorious sunlight and the joy that accompanies the best vacations. It’s about buried treasure and priceless pearls!”
As further proof of this, he then goes on to respond to the counter accusation that this makes Christianity a mercenary religion that’s only concerned with the end game. “I’ll follow you Jesus, but you better come through on your end.” That kind of thing.
Lewis, more than most people, knew how to have a ripping good time. He loved his beer and his cigarettes and his pipe and his books and his writing. He wasn’t overly concerned with idolatry in his heart. He was much more preoccupied with seeking to love the annoying guy in the pew ahead of him.
The Bible Never Calls Us To Be Idol Hunters
The Old Testament is absolutely littered with warnings to stay far from idolatry, which, for the most part, Israel ignored.
When you get to the New Testament, the number of references to idolatry is shockingly low, and 99% of those refer explicitly to legit, statue/shrine/temple idols. You know, Indiana Jones type idols. Don’t eat food offered to idols, that kind of thing.
Weird, right? Why is this? I think of the primary reasons is that when we are born again, God removes our idol-loving hearts and replaces them with hearts of flesh. We see the promise of this in Jeremiah 31:33:
For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, declares the Lord: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts. And I will be their God, and they shall be my people
The primary problem with the people of Israel is that the law was written on stone and not their hearts. The external law simply did not have the power to create obedience in them. The New Covenant is radically different, with God burning his law deep onto the hearts of his people.
Does this mean that we no longer can be tempted to put things above God? Of course not. If you’re so passionate about something that you’re willing to sin to get it, that’s a good sign that something holds a place above God in your heart.
But, that being said, our hearts are now primarily bent toward God rather than idols. Now that’s some good news.
One of the Holy Spirit’s jobs is to convict us of sin and righteousness. When we do begin to drift toward idols, the Spirit begins his dissection, cutting them away bit by bit.
The Spirit is the one who does the idol hunting, not us. When we try to take over his job, we end up confused, angry, and usually mildly depressed.
Because Idol Hunting Steals The Joy From Life
If we are constantly evaluating every desire and pleasure for idolatry, we’re going to be incredibly glum Christians.
“Boy, I love ice cream. Ooooh, but maybe I love it too much. Do I love it too much? Is this an idol? Wait, I’m eating a bowl right now. Is this the same as bowing to Baal?”
“Man, I’d like to get married. I sure hope God allows that to happen, sooner rather than later. But…do I want to get married too much? Maybe I care more about marriage than God!”
“This craft beer is crazy good. Wait. Am I more crazy about this than I am about God? Get behind me Satan!”
You get the point. Being constant idol hunters takes us on an Inception-like, ever downward spiral into the abyss of our souls, and the deeper we go, the tougher it is to get out.
We can become paralyzed by introspection, never taking any actions out of fear that they’re idolatry-motivated.
This, in turn, makes us buckets of fun to be around. We become that person who has to make everything hyper-spiritual to ensure that not a drop of idolatry sneaks in.
Rather than enjoying the staggering carnival of gifts God wants us to enjoy, we become monks who never dare eat more than a crust of bread.
So What To Do?
It’s really not that complicated. If the Spirit convicts you of idolatry, flee from it. If you become aware that something is more important to you than God, it’s probably some form of idol. Repent and keep going.
Don’t plunge into the depths of idol analysis/paralysis. Don’t pledge to become a eunuch because you got angry at God for keeping you single. Run to Jesus, delight in the gospel, and carry on.
Then eat, drink, hunt, play video games, smoke cigars, watch basketball, and read novels for the glory of God.