Engaging with cultures different from our own is good for us. Such engagements tend to happen through friendships with people of different demographics, intentional variations in media consumption, and travel. Those who have had the privilege of visiting other countries (or even other parts of their own country) know the value of such experiences. Similar to the sensation of looking up into a starry night sky, witnessing a different culture makes us feel our smallness. We realize that the world is much, much bigger than the fleeting life we know.
When we’re taken out of our own culture – perhaps in the form of a conversation, a different vein of Twitter, or a mission trip – it becomes easy to romanticize and demonize aspects of the culture we are exploring. As Christians, we can be very quick to identify the sins and idols of others. Sometimes this speck-identifying can be helpful in forming a realistic understanding of a culture, but it becomes a serious problem when we refuse to see the planks in our own culture.
Consider with me, brothers and sisters – do we really see the idols of our culture? Can we call them by name? For people who talk a whole lot about knowing ourselves, I’m just not sure how well we do.
One of my favorite short Old Testament narratives is that of the Philistine god, Dagon, and his encounter with Yahweh (1 Samuel 5). The Philistines had captured the ark of God and set it up beside their god, Dagon, in Dagon’s house, as if to say that Yahweh was his servant. Much to their dismay, Dagon fell face-down before the ark of the Lord twice, and the second time his hands and head were cut off. While the Philistine priests were surely terrified, this scene is somewhat comedic for modern, Western Christian readers. “Ha, stupid Philistines,” we might consider with smugness. “How did they think their fake god was going to do anything for them?”
Looking into this ancient Philistine culture and identifying their false god is very easy. He had a name and a face, and we watch him fall before the ark of Yahweh. Our culture may not have as many statues being worshipped, but I assure you our idols have names and faces. They are like Dagon. They cannot do anything for us, and they all fall down before Yahweh. The question is, do we know them? Not only do we know what they are for our neighbor, but do we know what they are for us?
Seeing sin more clearly in ourselves and readily repenting of it is a part of sanctification. This means that as we grow in holiness, we should be growing in our ability to identify our idols and we should grow in our hatred for them. It is easy to overlook and even tolerate the idols of our own culture, but Christians, we must detest them.
Security, comfort, the praises of men – these and countless other idols are flooding the American Christian subculture. They have names and faces, and, just like Dagon, they collapse at the feet of Yahweh. We must look for manifestations of these idols, see them for what they are, and learn to despise them. This will require two key steps:
We must figure out what culturally-acceptable idols are being honored in our own hearts and let them crumble before Yahweh. This might look like doing some nitty-gritty self-examination as to why we are doing this, buying that, thinking like this, or using our time in those ways. It may need to include going to brothers and sisters who know us well and asking them to help us see our own darkness. More than anything, it will definitely look like going to the Lord in prayer and asking him to reveal our sins to us and lead us to repentance.
2.) Help each other repent.
We actually have to help each other see and repent of idolatry. Step 1 and Step 2 should occur somewhat simultaneously, because all Christians ought to be walking in continuous repentance until glory. This step might necessitate some awkward conversations about motives, reasoning behind passing comments, social media posts, and life patterns. This is one of the hardest, yet arguably most important ways that we can love each other.
Our idols are just as helpless as Dagon. They are just as destructive as those of any other culture, yet the inundation we experience can make us blind. For the sake of holiness and joy, we have to look for and know our idols.