Christmas and Idolatry

Christmas and Idolatry.jpg

Last week, I wrote that the word of God discerns in us what we fail to discern ourselves, and I tried to show how this cutting work serves to draw us nearer to God. But what do we do when God reveals idolatry in our hearts? How should we respond when God highlights some object or dream or comfort or person and reveals to us our unhealthy attachment? The answer, I think, lies in how we understand gifts.

After showing the downward progression of sin (desire leading to sin which leads to death), James reminds his readers that “every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change” (James 1:14-17). James wants his readers to recognize God as the giver of good gifts so that they won’t pursue such things apart from him. Elsewhere, Jesus calls his followers to not worry, but to trust God to meet their needs (Matthew 6:25-33). God is both giver and provider. He meets our needs and satisfies our longings. As the psalmist has said, “No good thing does he withhold from those who walk uprightly” (Psalm 84:11b). Man, sadly, fails to trust God and turns instead to pursue good things apart from him. We try to bypass the giver to get to his gifts, and, in so doing, we allow idolatry’s roots to remain deep within our hearts.

How can we remedy this problem? For years, I assumed growth in godliness could only occur if the idol was removed. If I began to look to God’s gifts more than I looked to God himself, I simply sought to remove the object of devotion, to limit my desire. This method appeared to work, but only temporarily. Before long, my heart would simply find another object to pursue, another gift to chase. Though the specifics might vary, my tendency toward idolatry stood unaffected because idolatry exists primarily as an internal problem, not an external problem. I directed my heart toward the wrong things. To truly grow, I didn’t necessarily need to love things less; I needed to love the Lord more.

Christmas can uniquely deepen our love for God if we let it. For these few weeks in December, we remember the greatest gift God ever gave this world. His love shines bright as we consider how undeserving we are of Jesus. Christ came in spite of our sin and rebellion and saved us from the fate we earned, giving us his own righteousness in exchange for our sin. Reflecting on God’s love can change us. Suddenly, the temporary blessings of this life seem secondary in importance as we behold the glory of the saving Lord of creation. We appreciate all of his gifts, but we begin to desire him above them all.

Let this be our prayer. As we give and receive gifts, focusing so much attention on the good things around us, let us pray for perspective to see through the shadows to the great reality beyond. Let us pray for hearts to recognize God’s loving hand in every good and perfect gift. And let us never idolize the gifts over the giver. The Christmas season carries the impressive ability both to intensify and to mortify idolatry within the hearts of men. How will the season affect you?


Photo by Andrew Neel on Unsplash

18 thoughts on “Christmas and Idolatry

  1. You write “Christmas can uniquely deepen our love for God if we let it.” Why should we let that pagan feast let us deepen our love for God. Yes when we abstain from participating in such pagan feast, then it can.

    You also say “For these few weeks in December, we remember the greatest gift God ever gave this world.” I do hope you understand Jesus is the sent one from God and do not take him as your god.

    In case you want to celebrate Jesus his birth day why do you not do that on his real date of birth which was in 4BCE October 17? Every real lover of God should keep his hands of all sorts of pagan rites and feasts. Santa Claus, reindeer, fur-trees have nothing to do with Bethlehem, where Jesus is born and even less to do with the God of Israel, the Divine Creator of heaven and earth Who is an omniscient Spirit no man can see.

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  2. Hi Marcus. Thanks for reading and for commenting! I wasn’t trying to sanctify any pagan rituals or any unhelpful practices. Christmas, even with its secular aspects, still serves to encourage believers to reflect on the birth of Christ and to turn their hearts to God, and I wanted to highlight such reflection. And because Jesus himself claimed divinity and was understood to be God in flesh by his followers, Christians today can celebrate the advent season as a reminder that God is with us. I’m sorry if I caused any confusion by my post.

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  3. The disciples of Jesus and the real followers of that Jewish masterteacher never took him to God. Jesus is the way to God and it is true that we can celebrate the restored relationship, but we better do that by avoiding any connection with things that the Divine Creator does not like.

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  4. Could you point me to your sources on that first point? The New Testament writers appear to strongly affirm the deity of Christ, and they seem to be authoritative in early Christian theology and practice.

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  5. Yes, it is all written in the Holy Scriptures, the Bible, which we consider to be the Word of God.

    Nowhere do the gospel nor letter-writers say Jesus would be or is God.

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  6. John seems to disagree. He begins his Gospel by stating that Jesus was with God and was God (John 1:1). This carries the idea of the Trinity. Jesus later equates himself with God, claiming that they are one (John 10:30; John 8:58). Matthew records that Jesus is God with us (Matthew 1:23). Paul often places Jesus on equal standing with God in the opening of his letters, and he seems to equate the two in Philippians 2 and Colossians 1. Hebrews also speaks of the unique nature of Christ, highlighting aspects of his person that only God possesses (creative power, sinlessness, etc.). Scripture seems fairly consistent in its presentation of Christ as God.

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  7. How can Jesus be God and at the same time be “son of God”, “mediator for man”, “high-priest for God” and being not a liar, because Allah knows everything, though Jesus does not even know when he would return to earth?

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  8. Great question. Because of the verses I noted earlier in these comments along with other passages of Scripture (The baptism of Jesus in Matthew 3 and “The Great Commission” passage in Matthew 28, for example), we see the  doctrine of the trinity in play. Early Christian history shows the clarification of this truth as the church responded to a number of heresies concerning the person and work of Christ. Though difficult to understand fully, the logic aligns with the testimony of scripture and the teaching of the church fathers.

    You also raise a good question when you ask about the apparent differences between the Father’s knowledge and the Son’s knowledge. Scripture speaks of the incarnation as a revealing of God (see Hebrews). Because of the nature of the revelation, Christ limited himself in some ways (he went from being omnipresent to being located in one place, for example). Such humbling, to use Paul’s wording, fits into the Trinitarian understanding of God and can explain such apparent inconsistencies.

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  9. That goes back to the Old Testament promises of God. He told Abraham that he would bless all nations through one of his descendents, and he told David he would establish an everlasting kingdom through one of his descendents. Isaiah prophesied of the one who would bear the wounds and the transgressions of the people so that the people could go free (Isaiah 52-53). Paul, in Romans, traces these themes to show how Jesus became the perfect sacrifice and substitute for sinners. Paul says elsewhere that Jesus took on our sin that we might take on his righteousness (2 Corinthians 5). The purpose of the incarnation is the salvation of sinners for the glory of God.

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  10. Those texts let us more believe that god was going to sent some one and do not say He is going to come.

    In case He is the one Who would come why did He not straight ahead act in the Garden of Eden? Why did He wait so long and let so many people suffer and lets them suffer still, though you and many others believe they are now saved. (So then do you not suffer any more?)

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  11. I’m not sure anyone can answer that last question. The problem of evil has stumped followers of God since the beginning. But we do know that God cares for our suffering (1 Peter 5:7). Paul shows throughout 2 Corinthians how God helped him in his sufferings and thereby brought about good through them (see especially chapters 4-5 and 11-12). James and Paul both write that trials are sources of joy for those who know that God is working good through them (Romans 5 and James 1). And the story of Job shows that knowing God is ultimately sufficient regardless of whether we ever receive answers to the question of why we suffer. Furthermore, in the incarnation, God experienced suffering beyond any we can experience so that he can sympathise with us in our weaknesses.

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  12. What I can see is that it loos a very confusing god you are worshipping.

    Allah is a God of clarity and not a God of confusion. Your god at one point says He is the Most Almighty and at an other point he says he can not do anything from himself. One point he says I am the only one true God above all gods Host of hosts, a god Who can not be seen by man, and at an other point your god is seen by thousands of people (who still fall not death when they have seen that god, there are even ones who resurrect). At one point your god says he is a spirit and at an other point he says he is no spirit. At one point he even comes to pray to himself why he has abandoned himself. How can one forsake oneself?

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  13. I agree that God is a God of clarity and not of confusion, but the truth of that statement does not mean that we will, or can, comprehend the fullness of his being. God’s ways are higher than our ways and his thoughts higher than our thoughts. Throughout the biblical narrative, we see God leading people in ways that they don’t completely understand (think of God telling Abram that he and Sarai will have a son in their old age, or of God telling Joshua to walk around Jericho, or of God giving Job no answer to his questioning other than a deeper understanding of God’s power and authority). In many cases, God’s ways are beyond human comprehension, yet they are not therefore contradictory. We, by nature of being finite, fallen creatures, can not presume to have total comprehension of him. So, while we may think certain aspects of the trinity appear contradictory, we nonetheless see its truth attested throughout scripture.

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  14. When your god says he knows everything but later tells he does not know who would be seated next to him or when he would return, would you call that a honest god or would you think he is a liar?

    When you go to a bank to discuss the stock-market and want to buy shares and find a person sitting at the desk who is also the director, and he sells you shares with the promise they shall go up a lot (but knows in his heart they are worthless) would you consider him a liar? Though when you are broke and go to see the director of the bank he says he can not do any thing because it was not him but his employee, how would you then react.

    The omniscient God, the Great Manager or CEO of the Universe knows everything though you would not consider him telling lies when he tells you that he does not know when the end of the world would come. You also would not find him a cruel god when he saw the problem straight ahead in the Garden of Eden, but did not solve it there and then; and after so many centuries when he came down to earth to fake that he was tempted (because he himself says he can not be tempted) and to fake his death (because he himself says man can do him nothing and that he is eternal = not having a birth nor a death) he claiming to have brought salvation, has nothing changed because still all people are suffering as before and still have to see all-those problems in this world.

    Is it not to simple to say that because by nature of being finite, fallen creatures, that we cannot receive a better mind and can not presume to have total comprehension of him?

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  15. Yes it is still dealing with the trinity and pointing out how schizophrenic thta god must be and how the followers of him are mislead because not seeing how he lies to them, telling he does not know when he comes back though God knows everything and as such keeps it hidden for those who should know such an important point. At the same time he let them believe they are saved but lets them suffer a lot …. very very cruel.

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  16. I believe the trinity can be seen throughout Scripture and is therefore not a case of deceit but is an example of God’s complexity. I’ve mentioned a number of biblical texts which seem to suggest this doctrine, and I’ve pointed to early Christian history as a further example of the existence of this doctrine within orthodoxy. Would you care to respond to those texts concerning your disagreement with the idea of the trinity? I’m also interested in your other point. Where in the Bible do you find the idea that God’s people should not suffer?

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