SOME THOUGHTS ON THE SIN BEHIND ALL SIN: IDOLATRY is the monstrous act of making for oneself one’s own God and Creator. Terrible moral and spiritual confusion results by submitting oneself to a work of one’s own hands, and worshiping it, things over which the human creator would logically have dominion. Despite the subterfuge, at heart, the worshiper of a human-created thing—an idol—is worshiping the one who created it, whether oneself or someone else. Thus the sin of Adam, striving to be like God, continues.
Idols take many and subtle forms. Anything in which we place ultimate trust, and from which we derive our sense of worth and security, apart from our Creator/Redeemer God, is an idol.
Idolatry is not just “so 7th Century BC,” when Jeremiah was prophesying. To be human is to be innately and incurably religious. The question is not if we will worship someone or some thing, but who and what we will worship. Since we become like what or who we worship, the results of worshiping our own creations are many and frightening, and the consequences for what we do and become are devastating.
Current examples of idolatry include identity politics, ethnic and national symbols of hyper-patriotism, world-shattering weapons systems, personal weapons with which we seek security, money, party politics, and celebrity personalities (“American Idol”), even our churches and denominations if we invest in them the loyalty that belongs only to God and his kingdom.
One timeless, universal idol that Jeremiah names is wealth, especially that which is accumulated by unjust means. A word of wisdom or prophesy that rings true today is Jeremiah 17:11: “Like a partridge that hatches eggs it did not lay are those who gain riches by unjust means. When their lives are half gone, their riches will desert them, and in the end they will prove to be fools.”
By contrast, consider and meditate on some of the names that Jeremiah gives to God: “The Hope of Israel” and “Spring of Living Water” (17: 13; see also John 4:13-15; John 7:37-39).
Chapters 18 and 19 develop the theme and image of the potter and the clay as an image of God’s nature and relationship to Israel. Though this symbol of human yieldedness and divine initiative is as challenging to our individualistic culture today as it was for Jeremiah’s contemporaries, it is also a fruitful source of reflection and spiritual transformation. Songs and hymns, such as “Have Thine Own Way,” draw upon this image and language.
…could be considered a lament or a wisdom psalm. Like other psalms we have considered, it has a remarkable affinity with the prophecy we’ve been reading in Jeremiah, in that both the psalm and the prophet lament human foolishness, especially of the powerful who are in a position to “devour my people as though eating bread….”
Biblical wisdom is not just about how to better “make friends and influence people” and get one’s way in the world. It is about adapting and orienting oneself to the real world, the eternal world, the once and future world of divine justice, even when that appears “foolish” to everyone else, because “Everyone has turned away, all have become corrupt; there is no one who does good, not even one.” Biblical wisdom begins with lamenting the fallen state of the world, as does Psalm 53. But it also looks ahead with confidence to the answer to the prayer in verse 6: 6 “Oh, that salvation for Israel would come out of Zion! When God restores his people, let Jacob rejoice and Israel be glad!”
In effect, Biblical wisdom gives us very different things to lament and to celebrate than what the world currently laments and celebrates. But in light of the coming answer to the prayer of Psalm 53: 6, Biblical wisdom gives us true and everlasting reason to rejoice.