Monday, December 3, 2007

idols of the heart

My pastor made a passing reference to John Calvin yesterday, and I've been thinking about what he said. His comment was something like "The human heart is a factory of idols," we were designed to worship, only our hearts tend to set whatever is in front of us up as an idol to worship, like money or a new car or a Harvard education, rather than what we should worship - God. Of course, being the librarian that I am, I went searching for the actual quote. I ended up on the Christian Classics Ethereal Library site, and found Calvin's Institutes of the Christian Religion. The nearest thing I could find was the following:

Every individual mind being a kind of labyrinth, it is not wonderful, not only that each nation has adopted a variety of fictions, but that almost every man has had his own god. To the darkness of ignorance have been added presumption and wantonness, and hence there is scarcely an individual to be found without some idol or phantom as a substitute for Deity. Like water gushing forth from a large and copious spring, immense crowds of gods have issued from the human mind, every man giving himself full license, and devising some peculiar form of divinity, to meet his own views. (Book 1, Chapter 5, Section 12)

I never did find the actual quote "factory of idols" (I found it referenced quite a bit on other searches, but no one attributed it to a specific bit of Calvin's writings) so if there is a better citation, please let me know!

Anyway, that concept really struck me. And then I say to myself, "I don't idolize my new job", or "I don't idolize my renovated house," no, I say, "I am just proud to have these accomplishments." But does that sense of pride - if taken too far - become an idol in and of itself?

And then there's the other big "set" of idols - those things we so desperately desire. A new car, a bigger house, a spouse, a dog, a trip to Africa. Just FYI: I'm generalizing here - I am blessed every day by my most wonderful husband, and I don't like dogs and definitely don't need a new car! {{grin}} But here's my question. When do these things become idols? Is it wrong for a single person to say wistfully "someday I'll be married" or to save your pennies and dimes for that dream trip across the world? Or do our hopes and dreams become idols only when we give them power over our lives? And if that's the case, how do we know when that moment arrives? And can you use that same rationale for accomplishments - can you be proud of something you did without that something overtaking God's rightful place in your heart?

So it's become a new challenge to keep a better idea in the forefront of my mind, whenever I'm proud or desirous of something, to thank God for giving me the skills and talents and abilities to make these things possible. I don't know if this is really a "solution" to what Calvin calls "crowds of gods issuing from the human mind," and it's probably too deep for this "bear of very little brain" to tackle anyway. But anyway, I'd be interested to hear what you think. 8-)


JAG said...

Found it, except this translation has "forge" instead of "factory":

"When he relates that Rachel stole her father's images, he speaks of the use of idols as a common vice. Hence we may infer, that the human mind is, so to speak, a perpetual forge of idols. (Institutes, book 11, chapter 11, section 8)

JAG said...

Oops. That should be book 1.

Zana said...

Awesome! Thanks for the reference!