Beyond Our Own Idolatry … Grace

Jud Wilhite: "Until we realize God rescued us for his fame and not our own, we’ll miss the ultimate purpose for life, which is him."

Excerpted from Pursued: God’s Divine Obsession With You
By Jud Wilhite (FaithWords)



Every one of us is, even from his mother’s womb, a master craftsman of idols.
—John Calvin

Growing up, did you ever stick a poster of someone you idolized on the wall in your room? Maybe Michael Jackson or Madonna or even Patrick Swayze from Dirty Dancing? Or maybe it was the best-selling poster of all time, the 1976 Life magazine cover featuring Farrah Fawcett? If that was before your time, maybe it was the Backstreet Boys, N Sync, Michael Jordan, Lance Armstrong, Britney Spears or even Taylor Swift, who is currently plastered up in my daughter’s room.

You might even be one of the “Beliebers,” as the hardcore fans of teen sensation Justin Bieber call themselves. With numbers and intensity to rival the fan base of Elvis, the Beliebers will do just about anything to get close to Justin or to increase his fame. One young Bieber fan took a knife and carved JB I LOVE on her arm. An obsessed mom got a Justin Bieber tattoo on her lower back so her daughter could get backstage passes to his next concert. One fan even paid $683 for a water bottle from which Justin had taken a few sips.

Today we have celebrities with incredible talent, and we have those who are famous for … being famous. From Bachelors to Kardashians, from Real Housewives to Iron Chefs, everyone clamors for their 15 minutes in the spotlight, reveling in the attention, and in most cases, the money that accompanies it. In the ancient world, people elevated well-known kings and military leaders, but fame as we know it today is a product of our culture. And while I think having posters and enjoying certain performers or athletes is no big deal, it’s important we remember who’s at the center of our heart’s devotion.

Are posters hanging in the room of your heart that capture your time and attention more than God?

Selling Yourself Short

The issues with Hosea and Gomer’s marriage would be right at home on a reality TV show today. Of course, they’d have to tame it down quite a bit just to air it! The problem was not Gomer’s salacious past as a prostitute. Nor was it the adultery resulting from her return to other lovers. No, the problem we see in this woman’s life screams of counterfeit things she’s seeking to fill her life; it screams of idolatry.

It’s not just another man she’s in love with; it’s the brief moments of significance, fake love, temporary pleasure or personal power her actions produce. Gomer blatantly and openly sought out and maintained illicit affairs. She bore children with different fathers than her husband and remained about as indiscreet as a person can be. She said, along with God’s people, “I’ll run after other lovers and sell myself to them for food and water, for clothing of wool and linen, and for olive oil and drinks” (Hos. 2:5).

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There’s nothing romantic about her behavior here. Today we would call her a sex and love addict. Gomer’s not having some clandestine affair with secret rendezvous in discreet locations. There’s no paying with cash at out-of-the-way hotels or deleting racy text messages. She brazenly chases her lovers right out in public, going after them without shame, even trusting them to provide basic necessities like food and clothes for her. Talk about selling yourself short!

Can you imagine Hosea’s hurt and frustration? One infidelity would crush any partner, but a repeat offender like Gomer must have destroyed this man of God who loved her. Was she even willing to try and make their marriage work? Did he have any hope she was open to change?

Knowing God uses their marriage to portray his own anguish makes the story even more poignant. Basically, through their lives, God pulls the curtain back and shows us his heart, saying in essence, My people have betrayed me the same way. They prefer having spiritual affairs rather than honoring our commitment. Like any devoted lover, he doesn’t want to take second place to anything.

Naturally, we desire things to bring us joy, happiness and significance. We are driven to search for these things, and God has placed these desires in our hearts. He’s not calling us to less pleasure but to more, a pleasure that is ultimately grounded in him. Too often we expect more from romance, sex, money, comfort food or hobbies than they were created to give. When we set our hearts ultimately on other things than God, we find they don’t return what we were hoping they would. They actually return the opposite—emptiness, regret, bitterness and disappointment.

Arthur Miller describes his marriage to Marilyn Monroe in his autobiography, Timebends. He talks of her slow descent into dependence on barbiturates, depression, growing paranoia and hostility. He was afraid for her life. After a doctor was swayed to give her another shot so she could rest, Marilyn finally fell asleep. As Miller watched her sleep, he was moved to later write, “I found myself straining to imagine miracles. What if she were to wake and I were able to say, ‘God loves you, darling,’ and she were able to believe it! How I wished I still had my religion and she hers.” Beneath the layers of hurt and addiction remained an awareness that God was the only one who could fill the void.

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Emptiness is a consequence of idolatry. When empty idols are worshiped, the worshiper becomes just as vacant. Enough of something that’s not there is never enough. Only when we make God the object of our worship will we then find all the things that we were searching for in our pursuit of money, love, sex, family, career and status.

It’s easy to think we’d never sell our bodies like a prostitute, and so we dismiss Gomer as someone beneath us, a woman without the moral values that elevate us above her. But if you look up the definition of “prostitution” in the dictionary, you’ll discover that the secondary meaning goes beyond sexual commerce and refers to any instance of selling your talents for an unworthy cause. If we’re honest, we engage in this kind of prostitution every day with the idols we hold on to. We sell ourselves short and give our talents to undeserving causes.

Similarly, Gomer gave herself to unworthy goals for the unfulfilled needs in her life. Maybe it was to enjoy the thrill of the chase or to feel desirable, to be pursued and wanted, the sense of false intimacy that seemed to be within her control. There was likely a sense of power she experienced, both over the men she encountered as well as her husband. But gradually, eventually, all these unworthy goals just left her more unfulfilled.

I think it’s sort of like eating potato chips. Remember the old Lay’s commercial, “Bet you can’t eat just one”? Think about your favorite kind of chip or snack for a moment. It’s hard to stop yourself from having just one, and the next thing you know, the bag’s empty, but your stomach isn’t much fuller. You can load up on carbs, and an hour later you’re hungry again—they just don’t last. The more you eat, the more you want.