John Calvin once wrote that the human heart is an idol factory, and I’ve certainly found that to be true. Deep within us is a manufacturing process that continues on whether we know it or not. Slowly but steadily, we craft our idols - linking them together based on our thoughts, desires, and preferences until one day they take up full residence in our hearts.
Of course we know these idols are just that – idols. They’re our own creations. They do not speak. They do not feel. They do not exercise power. They are mere fabrications to which we willingly bow down to instead of bowing to the Living God. And yet we love them. Dearly.
You’ll forgive, I hope, the tongue in cheek title of this post, but I did want to say a few things that I believe we would all agree with, if we’re truly honest about why we treasure these idols. Here are a few reasons we convince ourselves that these idols are better than Jesus:
1. They tell me what I want to hear.
Because idols are fashioned around our own preferences and desires, we can rest assured that our idols are always going to tell us exactly what we want to hear. That we are right. That everyone else is wrong. That our sin is no big deal. That the best thing we can do in life is pursue that which will satisfy us at a given moment, no matter what it is.
But Jesus? Well, Jesus will tell us the truth. He loves us too much not to. Jesus, who knows our hearts more fully than we know ourselves, will cut through our web of self-deception, look us squarely in the soul, and tell us the uncomfortable, unvarnished truth about ourselves, Himself, and the world.
2. They think I’m the most important thing in the universe.
Most of us still think, at some level and at some point in time, that we are truly the center of the universe. And, lucky for us, our idols will agree. Our idols will affirm our belief that, because we are at the center, then anyone who doesn’t align with our desires or opinions is simply wrong or out of touch. Further, our idols will bolster our belief that because we are central, it’s perfectly fine for us to see others as a means to our own ends. They will support our “use” of other people to gain whatever it is they can offer us.
But Jesus? Well, Jesus knows that God is the center of the universe. He makes decisions based not on what will make us the most comfortable, but instead on the glory of the Father. This puts us in an uncomfortable position because when we walk with Jesus, we must constantly remember that we are not the lead character in this story; in fact, this is not our story at all. We are a sub-plot operating in a narrative thread with God at the center of all things.
3. They hate all the same things I do.
It is amazing how quickly we can move over the line of annoyance or even dislike into the realm of hatred. Most of the time the only thing we need to push us over the edge is someone else to agree with us – to affirm that yes, that person or that thing or that group is indeed the worst. Armed with the confidence that can only come with agreement, we can easily talk ourselves into deeper and deeper levels of hatred, all the while with our idols of preference cheering us on.
But Jesus? Well, Jesus is the friend of sinners. He’s the advocate for the outcast. He’s the One who constantly crosses lines of human division and brings together sinners, saved by grace, into often uncomfortable relationships. He’s the One who is building a people of incredible diversity who have nothing in common except the only thing that matters – the grace that has saved us in Him. Jesus is the One who builds bridges, not tears them down, and He expects us to follow Him across.
Yes, the heart is an idol factory. Today it’s busily working. Building. Manufacturing. And whatever comes out of that assembly line will tell you what you want to hear, think you’re the most important thing in the universe, and hate all the same things you do.
In short, those idols will be another version of our worst selves.
Fight it today, Christian. Fix your eyes on Jesus. Shut down the factory, and then wake up tomorrow and shut it down again. Don’t abandon the true Jesus for an idol of your own making.