First, futile thinking, or darkened hearts, or depraved mind — these are all ways of saying the same thing — wrong thinking. In other words, believing a lie.
Instead of thinking about God and enjoying him, we are consumed by whatever or whoever we put in the place of God. This is idolatry. We are thinking about our idols all the time, we are worrying about our idols all the time, we are planning out our days to make time for our idols. This is how idolatry affects our thinking.
Second, wrong thinking leads to wrong actions.
In Rom 1:23, Paul mentions how we exchanged the glory of God for idols that look like mortal man and birds and animals and reptiles.
It’s interesting Paul mentioned reptiles because our family adopted a reptile recently. We were helping the Parks move and as we were lifting a folding table, there was a lizard hiding on the ledge. And I think Brother Jae and Brother Matthew, friend of all living creatures, caught it for us. And I didn’t think much of it at first. We went to the Bay Area for a week and that was when it reached 100 degrees in Alhambra.
And I guess I hadn’t left enough water in the little bowl because when we returned Reppy, that’s what we call it, was curled up in a ball inside the bowl and the bowl was completely dry. Reppy looked like those worms you find on the sidewalk the day after it rains and they’re all dried up.
So I was planning to discretely bury Reppy in the dumpster while the kids were sleeping because I didn’t want to explain about heaven and hell to the kids and how reptiles don’t have souls except for Satan who is depicted as a snake.
Luckily, as I picked up the container, Reppy moved and I was spared from having to sit down with my kids and have that conversation. I have to admit, I hate reptiles, I hate anything with long tails and tongues, I hate insects, I hate anything that’s creepy and crawly. I know that I may not sound very manly and I risk losing the respect of the younger ones, but this is the honest truth. My last run-in with a lizard was in Japan inside our home, and suffice it to say, that lizard won’t be messing with anyone anymore.
But that’s before I had kids. This time is different. Jeremiah had to bring a picture of our family to school and he wanted to include a picture of Reppy. So Reppy has been adopted into our family.
A couple of times a week, the boys and I go on a bug hunt to find Reppy’s food. And there is an art to catching insects. There is the brute force way of smashing it with a stick or stepping on it. But then, the guts all ooze out or it’s stuck to the bottom of your shoes and you can’t salvage any bug parts. The best way is to lightly tap it or immobilize it slightly so that it’s still alive and antennaes are still moving. That’s a fresh kill and I think it must taste better for Reppy.
It’s like going to the harbor at 5am in Tokyo and eating sushi right after it’s been caught. It is so delicious. Compare that to eating sushi at an all-you-can-eat buffet somewhere in a small town in the Midwest. Not so fresh.
And one night we researched on the internet in hopes of identify what species Reppy is to determine if it’s a carnivore or an omnivore.
Why do I go into all this detail? To show how Reppy changed my view of the reptile community. My thinking actually changed. Before, reptiles were things that needed to be disposed of, and likewise, if I saw an insect, my first instinct was to kill it. Now, I see an insect and I think, Reppy must be hungry. That spider looks tasty. So instead of running away from insects, out of my love for Reppy, I run toward them.
This is a silly example how something I am mildly interested in — a reptile — changes my thinking toward other reptiles and insects. And this change in thinking results in a change in our actions.
How much more will our thinking be influenced by an idol. Something or someone that provides meaning and purpose and significance, how much more will these things and people — our idols — affect our thinking and our actions.
In the words of Tim Keller —
“An idol is anything more important to you than God, anything that absorbs your heart and imagination more than God, anything you seek to give you what only God can give. If anything in all the world is more fundamental than God to your happiness, to your meaning in life, then that thing has become an idol. It has supplanted God in your heart and in your affections. You will pursue that thing with an abandon and intensity that should be reserved for God alone.” ~Tim Keller, Counterfeit Gods
Idols are counterfeit gods because they promise things they can’t deliver. They promise significance, meaning, safety, security. Granted, many idols do provide a certain amount of those things. But they are limited. And as you pursue these idols more, instead of providing more significance and meaning and safety and security, they seem to give back less and less. It’s the law of diminishing returns. Idols promise ultimate significance, ultimate meaning, ultimate safety, ultimate security but only God can deliver in an ultimate sense.
God is infinite, you will never exhaust him. He will never disappoint you. He will never run out of things to give you. His tank will never be empty. His bowl of water will never run dry. The more you seek God, the more you will receive from him. God is not an idol. He is alive, he is living, he is a stream of living water, he is the bread of life, he feeds us, he nourishes our soul. He provides for our every need. Even the fact that we are alive and have breath today is because of God’s gracious hand. He is our refuge during the storms of life. And our life may be in the pits, but he says, this life is not all there is. I am coming back to make all things new. And you will be with me in my Father’s house for eternity.
Have you worshiped this kind of God lately?