“Since Ephraim has multiplied altars for sin, they have become altars of sinning for him.” Hosea 8:11
IDOLS ARE NEVER SEEN AS IDOLS TO THE ONES DOING THE WORSHIPPING
(This is the second of two posts so if you need background, read: Altars For Sin.)
Idols are never seen as idols to the ones doing the worshipping. I’m not going to wake up one day and think, hey, today’s the day I worship something false. No, idols creep in and take over our imagination. An idol begins as an idea with which we make agreements, and turns into a god. I’m talking little things as well as big. We may not erect Asherah poles or pull on sacred bull heads for a ritual dance, but we constantly erect idols in our hearts. And to these idols we build altars.
In my home you’ll often see me grab a toy away from a fighting group of children and say “whoa! It looks like this was made into an altar of sin, and has become an altar of sinning for you!” What I mean is that the object (or the idea, or the belief, or the desire) became more important to a child than what should be important, in this case, a brother or sister. Because of this, the object (or the idea, belief, or desire) was made into an “altar” at which the child is now sinning by being cruel, unkind, and forgetful of the respect the other child deserves. The altar is one thing, the continuous active sinning at the foot of the altar is another. Both are wrong, and both are important to note.
It’s a two step process–or maybe three, if one counts the initial temptation toward the wrong-doing. We build altars of sin, one; we return to the altars for active sinning, two. We can’t maintain altars of sin in our lives and avoid bowing before them. Our altars of sin become altars of sinning. It’s just the way it is.
FLESHING THIS OUT
For me, the altars of sin I continually erect are rooted in selfishness–usually, a desire for pleasure or for the easy way out. Something can be perfectly neutral in and of itself, such as a desire for alone time apart from my children, but I have a choice whether to erect that desire into an altar for Yahweh, or into an altar for something false. I value time alone. I proactively try to make it happen in my life. But the minute the idea and practice of alone time becomes my right, my just due, or worse, my salvation–I’ve crossed the line. I have built an altar of sin. Chances are, I’ll go on to to make it an altar of sinning. I’ve made my neutral desire into a god, and I’m going to serve it in spite of myself.
What does it look like for the altar to become an active altar of sinning? Well, to use the alone time illustration, I think it first becomes an attitude. Perhaps I develop a sense of desperation if I don’t get this thing I believe I need within the time and space in which believe I need it, perhaps it grows into resentment toward my children or my spouse. Maybe it moves from there into an inability (or refusal) to engage my parental duties with cheerfulness and love.
From attitude it moves to action–from thoughts (or faith) to deeds. Now I am impatient with my children, now I am angry with my spouse. Now I am irritated, bitter, slamming cupboard doors. Now I am reminding myself of all the work I do and growing enraged as I fail to receive my deserved reward. Now I am checking out. Now I am mindlessly scrolling the Internet. Now I feel life is unfair. The altar of sin has become an altar of sinning. This is where the verse has become so powerful in my life. The words play in my head not only when the children lose their way, but also when my own heart wanders.
Idols can be anything. We can erect altars of sin to anything, anything at all. We’re not talking literal golden calves here. As mothers, the temptations often lie within the perimeters of our role–sleep becomes an idol, a clean house, a fit body, an obedient kid. Or perhaps the idol is our own sense of self now so compromised by the humans we’ve birthed. Truly, as women, as human beings, our experiences and needs provide ample fodder for altars and idols. Once we have made an idol in our hearts, we next erect an altar, build a memorial, and begin to pay homage with our thoughts and with our life. Our spirits become embittered. Our hearts become compromised.
BRINGING IT HOME
The solution to all this altar-building lies of course in Jesus. Within the context of Jesus, then, I want to encourage you to see altar-building for what it is. When a child grabs a toy and a fight ensues, it is wrong for me to stand and yell, “stop!”–though often I do. The fight is not the altar. The toy is the altar. Do you see that? The fight is the active sinning before the altar’s base, while the altar itself it the toy.
But wait. When I say the toy is the altar, it follows that the toy must be an altar built to something else. And it is. It is an altar built to an idol in the child’s heart.
We must attempt to discern the idol. In a child, it may be simple self-centeredness. In adults, it may be little more. We discern the idol. We address the idol. The altar is our clue.
There is a yellow brick road and we must walk down it in our attempts to live a mindful, holy, Spirit-filled life. Ah, here is the sinning; ah, here is the altar; ah–here is the idol.
It is the idol that must be cast down.
What is it that is replacing Jesus in the corner of our hearts where an idol now stands? If something continually trips us up, if we explode with anger or fill with irritation, if the words leaving our mouths are negative and we can’t seem to conquer the beast–or any other sinful response to life–then an idol might be to blame. Sleuth it out. If there are false needs or desires, truth will banish them from our hearts. But if there is true need and desire, Jesus will show us a better way to get the needs and desires met. The meeting of the needs and desires will be in Him, so we can let the sinful altars go.
What have I made into an altar of sin that is now causing me to act/do/feel this way?
What needs or desires are represented by this altar?
Are the needs and desires legitimate?
What do I need to do in order to place the needs and desires in Jesus’ hands, see them through Jesus’ eyes, trust through them to Jesus’ fulfillment?
How can I tear down the altar of sin and in my true desire and need build an altar to Yahweh instead?
Let Him show you. He always will.