Self-possession and the Folly of Idolatry

Luke Timothy Johnson’s book Sharing Possessions (Eerdmans, 2011) has one of the most searching and profound discussions of idolatry that I have ever come across.  I hope to be sharing more from this extraordinary book in the weeks to come, but for now, here’s one powerful and convicting passage that every Christian should read:

“Some questions like the following may help us get the point: What is it, really, that enables us to get up and face each day’s activity? What is it that we will make room for during the day, no matter how busy our schedule? By what measure do I look back over the day, or week, or year, and consider it a success or a failure? In the daily round, is the high point the end of work and the beginning of leisure? The first drink? Is that which I will fit into my schedule no matter what my three-mile jog? When I lie awake in my bed with a feeling of discontent, is it because I did not get done all the work I intended to do that day, or did not get some time to myself, or did not spend time with my children and wife, or looked foolish in a conference, or dread facing a job interview tomorrow? When I look at others of my own generation, as I suspect we all do, and think about ‘where I am’ in my life, what measurement do I use? Do I think of myself as a success or failure in relation to others, and on what basis—my health, my wealth, my work (process or product), my fame, my family, my power over others, my good looks? These are not complicated questions, but they are, for most of us, difficult ones, for they have a way, cumulatively, of locating our center. . . . For, if idolatry is a functional phenomenon, the real question comes when I ask, ‘Where is it that the meaning and power of my individual human life is sought? In what or where do I seek my sense of worth and identity? What is it, seen or unseen, which is the “bottom line” for me, the source of my hope? What is it without which life would not be worth living? What is it for which I move and act, without which I stumble and fall? What gets me depressed? What is it, in my actual life, that functions as my god?’

 

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