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moralistic idolatry

You will sometimes hear a preacher say, “now, created things are not bad, mind you, but we can’t let them get in the way of our worship of God!” This is a true point in its own right, but I also think it is a severe understatement, and contains a danger in that understatement. I would venture to say that the proper counterpoint to this statement is the following, which may itself be a bit overstated: without creation, we cannot worship God at all. Angels, perhaps, can praise God as pure spirits, but that is not what we are. And that is not even my point, really–angels themselves are created. They cannot worship God, either, without reference to the created modes of interaction that God has ordained for them (which remain a mystery to us). But my point is that, without creation, we are nothing, and hence worship is nothing. God exists apart from creation, but he is the only being with this property. For all created beings, their interaction with God is mediated through creation.

Further, as long as we view creation in competition with our worship of God, we will let the one get in the way of the other. To do so itself breeds idolatry, because it paints a picture of a moralistic and gnostic god who is opposed to the goodness we see around us. There is no essential conflict between created good and the worship of God. The conflict is contingent. What is it contingent on? It is contingent on our rebellious hearts.

Thus when a moralist rails against some created good, what we are really seeing is the idolatry of his own heart: the secret desire he has to abuse creation has been unconsciously wed, in his mind, to the creation itself. His own idolatrous impulses have become, in his mind, intrinsic to the object of his potential false worship. This is one of the dangers of “the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees.”

The beauty of the gospel is that it sets us free from this. We are no longer pitted in an impossible battle against the created things we have abused, and the hold they have on us. Rather, we hold tight to Jesus Christ in faith, and he will set the rest aright.

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