Thursday, August 6, 2009

Is That Right?

I've have seen this several places recently, by people I respect, but I don't know if I agree. The statement is that idolatry is the root of all sin. Now I get nervous whenever anyone chooses to create such absolute statements like this. I don't know if I agree that idolatry is the root of all sin. I would think that selfishness is the root of all sin. To me, selfishness often leads to idolatry. I guess it really depends on how you define idolatry. I'm just not sure that idolatry is the root of all sin, but it sure seems like selfishness fits the description more. I don't know why we have to make such statements in the first place. Thoughts?

6 comments:

Rick said...

Ok...but what is selfishness? Is it not the valuing of self (and all that entails) above all else? If self is most important, have we not set "self" either above God or as a replacement of God? Is that not idolatry?

billy v said...

Am I an idol then? Isn't an idol a representation of something that doesn't exist? Now if you define idolatry as valuing anything other than God, then I guess yes. But is selfishness really idolatry?

Rick said...

Yes...idolatry in the scripture is used to describe people that worship poles and such that don't really represent anything. However, it's also used to describe the heart attitude of one's devotion, worship and affection towards about anything that can't deliver on it's perceived value. So while I would agree with you, I would say that idolatry encompasses much more than what you're saying.

To answer your question...yes, you are an being an idol in the case of selfishness. Sort of. To be more exact, you are an idol in the sense that you are trying to be a representation of something you are not--the center of the universe.

Whether one believes they are the center of the universe or not, it simply isn't true. In that sense you--as you conceptualize yourself when you're being selfish--are being an object of your own affection, devotion, worship that will not be able to deliver...because you represent something that isn't real...just like the idols fashioned by human hands.

As I understand, idolatry is used to describe the actual act of worshiping an object and the heart attitude towards anything that would superimpose itself on God's glory.

But you're the theologian! What am I missing here?

billy v said...

You're not missing anything. I'm just asking questions. Sometimes I don't like such all inclusive statements. It all comes back to how we define idolatry. I would like to see how some of what you are saying is backed up with Scripture (I don't mean that in a snarky way, I mean that in that I am trying to see what others see here). Thanks for your replies. BTW, I'm not much of a theologian, I'm more of an exegete. There is a difference (but both are needed).

Rick said...

Yeah...to be fair, the New Testament uses the word "idolatry" in the two ways we both mention. For instance, in the Galatians 5:20 list, the word seems to be one of many sins listed...which in context would probably mean it's used in reference to a ritualistic practice of some kind.

However, in the Colossians 3:5 list, it seems idolatry is short hand for all sins that are "earthly". Some commentators consider it only modifying the word "covetousness" because "Which" is feminine and matches covetousness...but while my Greek is rusty, I don't recall that being necessarily prohibitive for idolatry modifying the whole list (Jerome reads this as modifying the whole list as does Luther).

The use of idolatry in 1 Peter 4:3 is less clear, although I would read it more as mirroring Colossians than the Galatians text.

In the ISBE's article on Idolatry (which, I realize is no more than commentary on the same texts I mentioned already), the dual or expanded nature of idolatry is mentioned. For what it's worth, the article says this:

"Idolatry originally meant the worship of idols, or the worship of false gods by means of idols, but came to mean among the Old Testament Hebrews any worship of false gods, whether by images or otherwise, and finally the worship of Yahweh through visible symbols (Hos 8:5, 6; 10:5); and ultimately in the New Testament idolatry came to mean, not only the giving to any creature or human creation the honor or devotion which belonged to God alone, but the giving to any human desire a precedence over God’s will (1 Cor 10:14; Gal 5:20; Col 3:5; 1 Pet 4:3)."

**Orr, J., M.A., D.D. (1999). The International standard Bible encyclopedia : 1915 edition (J. Orr, Ed.). Albany, OR: Ages Software.**

I'm not sure if you've picked of "The Reason for God" by Keller, but I understand there's a significant work on the subject in at least one chapter. He would do your question more justice than I. Ditto on most anything David Powlison writes.

billy v said...

Thanks for the work Rick. That is helpful. I recently heard Keller on idolatry and honestly it was one of the only times that I didn't connect with what he was saying. Good stuff from you.