Thursday, February 05, 2009

Faith, Idolatry, and the Permission to Feel

A reader (Lisa) left this comment on yesterday's blog entry, and rather than just post a response to her comment, I wanted to explore it a bit here. If you haven't already, you might want to read yesterday's post before reading on so the context makes sense.

First, here's the question Lisa asked (thanks Lisa!):

Where in your opinion do you draw the line from something being a healthy longing or hunger, the thing you can't live without to it being an idol?

I learned this morning that Ken Sande in his book The Peace Maker defines "idol" as "when a desire has become so strong it controls our thoughts and behavior" and he says that you can tell when a desire is ruling your heart by how you react when that desire isn't met.

First of all, I just want to say this is a fantastic question, and one that every Christ follower must resolve in order to experience the full freedom and Life the gospel offers. Here's my take on it: A desire becomes an idol when it usurps God as the prime object of our heart's devotion. "You shall have no other gods before me" (Exodus 20:3) is, for me anyway, a fairly straightforward measure. Do I want my desire more than I want God and his will for my life? Is my desire causing me to lose devotion to God, or even to push him away? If the answer is yes, then I've probably put my desire before God; it has become an idol--something I serve above God.

I can appreciate the warning to avoid letting your desires "control your thoughts and behavior," and of course I agree. But some wrongly take that to mean that as Christ followers we should avoid feeling or desiring anything too profoundly or too deeply, for fear of it becoming an idol. The mandate of Scripture to be governed by the Spirit (Galatians 5:16) does not mean that we should suppress our desires or minimize how we authentically feel about things. On the contrary, I think the freedom the gospel affords us (John 10:10; Galatians 5:1) calls us forth to experience life even more deeply and truly in every way than we did before coming to faith, allowing our hearts to feel the full breadth and depth of our deep desires (and please note I'm not talking about fleshly lusts here, but the deep desires of the heart), and to bring those deep desires into our relationship with God, inviting Him into them and fully submitting them to Him.

This is, at least in part, what I believe this well-known passage is instructing us to do:

Delight yourself in the L ORD; And He will give you the desires of your heart. (Psalms 37:4)

He doesn't say "don't desire;" but rather, have your desires, and choose to delight yourself in God above all. In my view, this is a far more courageous and authentic way of walking with God than simply suppressing our desire out of fear and calling it godliness. But it isn't godliness. Suppression is a weak substitute for authentic surrender.

I'm reminded of this quote from John Eldredge's The Journey of Desire:

"To live with desire is to choose vulnerability over self-protection; to admit our desire and seek help beyond ourselves is even more vulnerable. It is an act of trust. In other words, those who know their desire and refuse to kill it, or refuse to act as though they don't need help, they are the ones who live by faith. Those who do not ask do not trust God enough to desire. They have no faith. The deepest moral issue is always what we, in the heart of hearts, believe about God. And nothing reveals this belief as clearly as what we do with our desire." (p. 59)

Other thoughts on this? Feel free to post.


Anonymous said...

Excellent post, Michael.

I'm reminded of a quote by St. Irenaeus: "Life in man is the glory of God; the life of man is the vision of God.” Another translation says: “The glory of God is a living man; and the life of man consists in beholding God” (Against Heresies, Book 4, 20:7). More commonly, I think, we see this quote as "The glory of God is man fully alive."

We have to give ourselves permission to feel what we feel, then look at it through the filter of God's love and what He has to say about Himself and us, so we can walk in genuine relationship with Him. As we do that, He's really good about dealing with the idols in our lives. He has no qualms about toppling them. He is a jealous God, jealous for us because He loves us so very much, and He wants what's best for us.

Lisa @ said...

Michael, GREAT ANSWER! Thank you so much. I do have deep desires and I feel like God has put them in my heart, but I know it's when I start elevating the gifts above the giver that things in my heart get dangerous. Thank you for spelling out that it actually takes more faith to have deep desires and let them blossom in the context of God's leading, than it does to suppress them. I think this is something that both me and my husband needed to hear. Right on! God has gifted you with wisdom. Thanks for sharing it!

Anonymous said...

Thanks Michael and Lisa. The key is what Lisa says here in this comment. The desires in your heart must be God's desires!
I feel that too many use that verse to say God will give them what they desire. Yes He will if we do what the other part says and that is to delight in Him. If we delight in Him, then His desires become ours and thus, He will give those to us! And remember to always give Him the Glory!

Kathy Butryn said...

M...this is a great post. I needed to hear this today. A great encouragement. Thank you.


Lisa @ said...

Hi Michael,

Ok, my next question (I hope you don't mind)...

We're doing a Bible study this week in my small group on answered prayer. The questions was "How do you think God would respond to a request for something He knew would be bad for you?" (ref. Matt 7:9-11)

My initial thought was that God would either deny it because he knows better and has a better plan or he would give it (or sometimes simply allow it) in order to teach us something.

But then I thought maybe I am just thinking this way because I struggle with fully trusting God to have my best in mind which has to do with my having a lot of pain in the past with prayers getting answered but in a way that hurt. However I'm starting to recognize it's more likely the fact that God uses crap that happens (ie. death and suffering) because we live in a fallen world for His good and not that he intentionally hurts me in order to help me grow.

So my real question is do you think God would give us something we think we want even if he knows it's not good for us in order to teach us something? Or do you think maybe he removes his hand of protection when we ignore his voice and go after it ourselves?