Idols: Our Main Manufacturing Item

God loves us too much to allow our idols to remain:

I am again reading through the books of 1 & 2 Kings. One major theme that stands out for even the casual reader is what distinguished the bad kings from the good kings. The former brought in or set up idols and pagan worship sites and ran with the false prophets. The good kings tore down and destroyed the idols and pagan religious sites, and put away – often obliterated – the false prophets.

This morning as I was reading about all this, two famous quotes immediately spring to my mind. Long ago John Calvin correctly said this: “Man’s nature, so to speak, is a perpetual factory of idols.” And much more recently C. S. Lewis put it this way: “Images of the Holy easily become holy images – sacrosanct. My idea of God is not a divine idea. It has to be shattered time after time. He shatters it Himself. He is the great iconoclast.”

Those two quotes in a nutshell describe not just the Book of Kings but the whole of human history. We are forever creating idols and God is constantly seeking to free us from them. We forever are living idolatrous lives, both in worshipping anyone and anything other than the living God, and in constructing false images of God. So God has to deal with both.

Yesterday I wrote an article on God’s love, and how so many of us struggle to really fathom it and experience it. A good part of this is because of all the idols we have in our lives, and all the false pictures we have of who God really is. In my article I made use of an older book by Sam Storms, The Singing God (Passio, 1998, 2013).

In quoting Storms, I mentioned how in many ways he was influenced by the great Jonathan Edwards, and by his more recent populariser, John Piper. I finished my article by running with the last paragraphs of his book, as found in Appendix B. Here I want to quote much more of it. He begins this way:

“Why does God love you? You had better sit down before I answer that question. . . . God loves you because God loves himself. God is committed to your best interests because He is first and foremost committed to His own. God loves us because in doing so He glorifies Himself.”

Image of The Singing God: Feel the Passion God Has for You...Just the Way You Are
The Singing God: Feel the Passion God Has for You...Just the Way You Are by Storms, Sam (Author) Amazon logo

He discusses this a bit further and then rounds out the chapter with these words:

Don’t you now see that for God to fail or refuse to value Himself preeminently would implicate Him in the sin of idolatry? We must remember that the rules of humility that govern creatures do not apply to the Creator. If God were ever to act in such a way that he did not seek His own glory, He would be saying that something more valuable than Himself exists, and that is a lie. Worse still, it is idolatrous.


The reason it is sinful for us to seek our own glory is because there is something more valuable and important than ourselves. We are but creatures. For the same reason, it is righteous for God to seek his own glory because nothing is more important or more worthy than God. He is the Creator.


To sum up: God loves Himself infinitely. He has to! His own glory is the principal focus of all His energy and efforts. It follows from this that everything He does is designed to win praise for that glory from His people. Says Piper:


“All the different ways God has chosen to display his glory in creation and redemption seem to reach their culmination in the praises of his redeemed people. God governs the world with glory precisely that he might be admired, marveled at, exalted and praised. The climax of his happiness is the delight he rakes in the echoes of his excellence in the praises of the saints.”


How, then, can He be a God of love? If God loves Himself above all others, how can He love others at all? If He is passionately committed to doing everything for His own sake, how can He be passionately committed to ours? And that is the thesis of this book, that God passionately and fervently loves us. So again, if God is for Himself, how can He be for us? Here’s where things get really interesting.


If God were to cease loving Himself supremely, He would cease being God, for He will have committed an idolatrous act. If this were to occur, we are the ones who stand to lose most. “For where can we go when our God has become unrighteous? Where will we find a Rock of integrity in the universe when the heart of God has ceased to value supremely the supremely valuable? Where shall we turn with our adoration when God himself has forsaken the claims of infinite worth and beauty?”


We are now prepared to ask two questions, the answers to which, I hope, will make sense of all that has preceded.


First, what is the most loving thing that God could do for you? John Piper puts it like this: “What could God give us to enjoy that would prove him most loving? There is only one possible answer: himself! If he withholds himself from our contemplation and companionship, no matter what else he gives us, he is not loving”


Now for the second question. “What do we all do when we are given or shown something beautiful or excellent? We praise it!” In fact, our joy in the gift is incomplete until we praise it. I agree with C. S. Lewis, who said:


“I think we delight to praise what we enjoy because the praise not merely expresses but completes the enjoyment; its appointed consummation. It is not out of compliment that lovers keep on telling one another how beautiful they are; the delight is incomplete till it is expressed?”


What this means is that if God loves us, and He does, He will do two things. First, He will give Himself to us. He is Himself the greatest gift. Second, He will work to secure from us the praise of His glory, “not because he needs to shore up some weakness in himself or compensate for some deficiency, but because he loves us and seeks the fullness of our joy that can be found only in knowing and praising him, the most magnificent of all Beings”! That is why, if God is going to be for us, He must be for Himself. Piper puts it like this:


“God is the one Being in all the universe for whom seeking his own praise is the ultimately loving act. For him, self-exaltation is the highest virtue. When he does all things ‘for the praise of his glory.’ he preserves for us and offers to us the only thing in all the world which can satisfy our longings. God is for us! And the foundation of this love is that God has been, is now, and always will be, for himself.”


Let me try to clarify all this with a brief summary. My point has been that if God is going to love us to the fullest, if God is going to seek our eternal happiness and welfare, He must be committed above all else to the pursuit of His own glory. He must do whatever is best suited to magnify His own name and to advertise His own glory. In other words, if God is going to love us, He must first love Himself. The most loving thing that God can do for you is to love Himself preeminently.


In fact, since God is the most honorable and praiseworthy being in the universe, it would be idolatry if He failed to pursue His own glory above all else. He would be guilty of honoring as God something or someone other than God.


Now, how would a God like this go about loving us? Would it not be by providing us with the highest good possible? And is not God Himself the highest good? In other words, if God really loves us, He must work to bring us into the enjoyment of who He is and thereby win from our hearts praise for Himself. He must do everything in His infinite power to lead us into praise and honor of His name. By winning for Himself your worship as the God of all glory, you experience the greatest possible satisfaction, namely, enjoying God. And God is glorified by your enjoyment of Him. Or, as John Piper so often puts it, God is most glorified in you when you are most satisfied in Him.


Thus for God to seek His own glory and for God to seek your good are not separate or antithetical endeavours. That is because God is most glorified in us (there’s His glory) when we are most satisfied in Him (there’s our good). Therefore, if God were not committed first to His own glory, He would not be at all committed to our good.


Our highest good is in the enjoyment of God. God’s highest good is in being enjoyed. Thus, for God to work for your enjoyment of him (that’s His love for you) and for His glory in being enjoyed (that’s His love for Himself) are not properly separable. Glory to God!

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