In my previous post, I wrote about a particular idol in my life and how, as C. J. Mahaney and many others before him have noted, the thing that makes our desires idolatrous is usually not the object, itself, but the degree of the desire, such that it rules our lives.
I have been reflecting upon this truth in my life on many fronts. One of the easiest ways, I am finding, to detect functional gods is to look at our sinful reactions to people or situations.
There are a number of examples in my life, but one that stands out the most is losing my cool. Is it really just "emotions?" When you say it like that, it just seems so... common and harmless. I mean, everyone has emotions, right? Everyone loses it every now and then. It really isn't a big deal. It was just emotions.
The problem with this kind of thinking is three-fold. First, it neglects the fact that our actions are driven by what is in our heart -our ruling desires. It makes it sound like emotional outbursts are just random flukes. Second, it seems to downplay responsibility. It makes it sound like things are excusable if they are the result of emotions and not methodical, planned-out intent. Third, if you put all of this together, it neglects the fact that wrong is defined by what dishonors or belittles God and what He commands, not by how common the sin is among men.
Our sinful emotional outbursts actually show more about who we really are than anything else. They show what desires and cravings rule our lives, leading us to sin. We are more ourselves when we are tired, stressed, and emotionally explosive than when we are rested, jovial, and more successful at keeping a sense of decency and propriety over and against what we really desire.
If I lose my cool at my son, for example, what are the desires that lead to my sinful anger in his direction? Well, here is what I think, by reflecting upon my own heart (in no particular order): I desire that he would honor and obey my wife and I. In fact, he must, and I must teach him that he must. I desire that he would fear, honor, and trust the Lord. I desire that he would treasure God and eternal things rather than video games. I desire that he would learn things like integrity and honesty.
This is a list of some of the main desires. I don't know about you, but I can't see anything wrong with any of them. They are all good, Biblical, even practical desires that a parent would have for a son. The problem, however, lies not in the object but in the intensity of the attachment to these desires. Am I building my life, my joy, my sense of success and accomplishment as a parent, and my self-worth upon these desires being fulfilled? If so, then these have become idols. Even the motive in desiring these things shifts. The motive is not so much the good of my son, anymore, as it is that I need these things to be fulfilled, for myself. This is exactly what sometimes happens. Losing my cool when my son dishonors my wife, for example, is just an expression of the fact that I want something, itself perfectly good, so much that I prefer it over God Himself, who hates my sinful anger and wrath.
I cannot guarantee that my desires end up being fulfilled. Only God can. Anger has so often been a reactionary method to pursue this desire. In effect, I have served it and been ruled by this desire as a god.