Sunday, July 19, 2009

A Fine Line Between Worship and Idolatry

A good friend sent me a quote the other day. He is reading "Open Ice" by Jack Falla. I'll not commit the injustice of trying to repeat the quote; read the book and you'll know it when you see it. It's about Falla observing the Sistine Chapel ceiling artwork. Witnessing the painting of the creation of water made him think of ice, from which we get hockey. It really was a pretty amusing quote, and it got me to thinking...

Here's the difference, the fine line between worship and idolatry: If I think of creation and am automatically drawn to hockey because I love hockey, that is (or it risks being) idolatry. If I see hockey and it makes me think of God, that's worship.

Don't get me wrong, you can enjoy the many things in life without them being an idol. Really, this is a thought process that needs to be fleshed out a bit (to onlooking theologians, no pun intended). Many a young Christian has asked themself, however, just how much can I enjoy something before it becomes an idol? This is really the question I think I'm facing here. I think the illustration is sound, too.

God's glory can be found in just about everything.

I cut at the ice with the freshly sharpened blades of my skates, the smell of that cold winter air permeating my senses. I see the flakes of snow falling against the glow of the rink lights during an evening skate down at the park. I hear a slapshot crack and the near immediate thump of a steadfast sideboard holding back the snow and keeping in that little black disc. All this in mind, and I realize: the wood of the stick and of the boards, the frozen water beneath my skates and the crystalized water falling from the sky, the rubber puck perfectly round and within fractions of an ounce of an exacting weight, the current of electricity for the lights and the heat of the warming house - all these varying systems and substances come into a created harmony mimicing, in a small way, the created harmony from the almighty God. He gifted us this that we may have joy and say how great is our God!

Yet when I had such joys I rejoiced in the people that made it, not the God that made it possible. I put my back to Him as I laced up my skates. I said "Assuming He exists, I'll leave Him alone if He leaves me alone". Instead of bringing just punishment to a thankless, disobedient and recalcitrant boy, He showed me His glory. He said "Look at all I have created for you. See all that you have been given, that you may know the power and the majesty of your creator. This water that sustains your human flesh, that you skate on, breath in, swim through, watch falling from the sky and crashing upon your shores - see it and know I made it and I made it do that, and it is a tiny shred of my abilities."

I fall to my knees, to think how I tried putting God in a little jar on my shelf. I would beg forgiveness except to realize a great sin like mine shall not go unpunished. "The wages of Sin is death" our God declares. Death it shall be. I have purchased my death. The purchase price, I have met; the reward, however, I shall never see - for my God is "both the Just and the Justifier". I have been justified in the eyes of my Lord. I'll see Him and, though my sins be like scarlet, I shall be white as snow. It is the Lord Jesus who died. The punishment of death purchased by me was served in whole by Him who was sent of God and bore the full deity Himself. Yes, I shall one day bow joyfully in the presence of the Lord because my punishment was placed on Him who knew no sin, the lamb, Jesus Christ.

The next time I feel the wind in my face as I listen to the rhythmic shhruk-shhhruk-shhhruk of steel on ice, I'll see the white of the snow and think of God - the Creator, Sustainer and Redeemer... and I will rejoice.


lulu petrina ! said...

"God's glory can be found in just about everything." < i totally agree with this. I like to do wood work in my spare time (about twice a year =)) and i always felt like making something beautiful with your hands is a form of worship especially if your piece has a story behind it (the last candelabra i made was for Lent and Advent).

I have also been to the Sistine Chapel. I think its a different story if i was there alone but no one had the priveledge to do that except the Pope i think. Despite beind surrounded by sweaty, noisy, tourist who are too busy starring upward and was not paying attention to where they are stepping (on my toes most of the time), it was quite an enjoyeable experiene but i wont classify it as being awe inspiring. I do feel like its Michaelangelo's form of worship and i thank God for giving one man such a talent.

If there is one art 'worship' piece for me it would be the Pieta also by Michaelangelo. Mary's face says it all...

lulu petrina ! said...

By the way, Phillip Yancey on his book "Prayer" also mentioned the way human interact with art and nature is a form of Prayer. I highly recommend that book and the very wise man that introduced me to that book. His blog is

Spike said...

I think really the "things" that we love do not become the idol. It is our "selves" that become the idol. We all have things we love, and they are not idols, no matter how much we love them. We are created to love, and that's healthy, be it fishing or family or Christ.

However, if we are relying on ourselves to be content with loving these 'things' we make our selfishness, our selves, the idol. When we rely on God for our peace and happiness (and the results) in the things that we do and love, then they are gifts. They are not the idols ever. But we make ourselves the idols when we leave God out of the equation, as that's just living in the 'natural'.

Your frame of mind is soundly centered on God, as your post clearly shows, yet all of us have minds that wander, that is human. It is when we organize our thoughts and actually act on them (live our lives, the gospel) that the Truth becomes known. If loving "one thing" too much that it becomes an idol is possible, then it can only be ourselves.

Newnik said...


The whole idea of "self-as-idol", I think, is really overblown. I've heard it a number of times in many contexts, and I think it's a misnomer. The wrong name. "Self-as-idol" is when you worship yourself, and seeking your own pleasure doesn't constitute worship. What you describe, I think, is simply living without God - living with your back turned to Him. Equally disastrous, different problem.

I'll admit that what you say does happen, but I'd hold the term idolatry for the more extreme cases.