Alpha & Omega

Idolaters Anonymous
Stealing God's Glory

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What are the common kinds of idols? How do idols affect hope and meaning? What does joy have to do with idolatry? What frees us from idolatry? How does forgiveness bear on idols? Who is Jesus? What is Gethsemane? What is spiritual warfare against idols? What is the Good News? What is Idolanon?
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Forgiveness

The dominant theme of the biblical writers is that people are alienated from God owing to their rebellion against God. The rebellion consists primarily in selfish disobedience to God's love commands: the command that we love God with all we are and have and the command that we love others as we love ourselves (Mark 12:28-31). We habitually live our lives as if we have no need of either these commands or the perfectly loving God who has given them for our own good. We thereby reject our God-given status as creatures, and we presume to know better than God regarding what is good for us. In willfully exalting ourselves, we demote God from His status as Lord of our lives.

In rebelling against God, we undermine our own lives. We choose to cling to sources of supposed security that hinder our loving and trusting God as we ought. That is, we lapse into idolatry. We move toward bondage and death, and away from freedom and life. When faced with God's standard of unselfish love, we experience fear, guilt, shame, and hiding. Our alienation from God deepens and widens. We become weary and devoid of joy and peace. Death looms large. We have no escape. We are lost indeed, despite the diversions and distractions we use to avoid facing God's music, the music calling us from death into His life.

In the midst of our self-made mess, God comes to us. Amazingly, God comes not with condemnation but rather with forgiveness, with merciful love. He comes not to meet our twisted expectations but instead to give us what we truly need. He meets with resistance and rejection from us, but He does not give up. Instead, He goes for broke: He sends His beloved Son, Jesus. He stoops low, humbly, to meet us in self-giving compassionate love, in Jesus. God is, in Jesus, proclaiming forgiveness to His enemies (namely, to us), and extending an offer of reconciliation, of friendship on God's life-giving terms of unselfish love. As the apostle Paul states:

If anyone is in Christ, he or she is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come! All this is from God, who reconciled us to Himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: that God was reconciling the world to Himself in Christ, not counting people's sins against them (2 Cor. 5:17-19).

God demonstrates His own love for us in this: While we were still  sinners, Christ died for us (Romans 5:8).

The life and death of Jesus are the heart of God's effort to reconcile us to Himself. In the life and death of Jesus, God comes to His enemies to extend friendship, the kind of friendship whereby one lays down one's life for another, in self-giving compassionate love. Jesus is God's self-giving call to His enemies, a call to come home to the God who truly loves them (that is, us) and who alone can free and sustain them (that is, us).

God's call to us is at its center a Good News call of compassionate forgiveness. When God pronounces forgiveness upon us, we are being judged by love as having fallen short of God's love commands. We are judged as needing forgiveness and as being worthy of judgment, owing to our rebellion against Jesus's love commands. We expect judgment as condemnation, but instead we receive judgment as merciful forgiveness in Jesus. This is the core of the Good News, the Gospel, of Jesus Christ. Part of this core is that we receive, as a free gift, the very Spirit of Jesus and of His Father.

In Jesus, God has taken care of any supposed or self-imposed ground for human alienation or hiding owing to human rebellion. In Jesus, God offers compassionate forgiveness to all people, however alienated and rebellious they are. "While we were still sinners, Christ died for us." God counts the death of Jesus as any needed payment for justly forgiving our rebellion. His offered reconciliation of us to Himself is a free, unearned gift in Jesus. It undermines any of our distorted conceptions of proper or just reconciliation. God's gracious gift of Jesus sets the standard for justice in reconciliation. This is a central theme of Paul's letter to the Romans (see Rom. 3:21-26), and it is foreshadowed in Jesus's parable of the workers in the vineyard (Matt. 20:1-16). Divine reconciliation comes in a kind of unselfish love foreign to us and our inferior, selfish ways. It shatters our distorted preconceptions about God and about our value before God.

In receiving Jesus as our Lord, we receive God's gracious offer of forgiveness and reconciliation. We thereby receive the gift we need to live in unselfish freedom and love. Receiving Jesus as Lord consists in loving, trusting, and obeying him in the spirit of Gethsemane: His will must be authoritative over our will. We then must forgive others as God has forgiven us (see Matt. 6:15); otherwise, we are not truly receiving God's universal offer of forgiveness. This is a tall order, because our forgiving others, including our enemies, requires that we love them (cf. Matt. 5:43-45), and we lack the power to love our enemies on our own. Such rare forgiveness and love must empowered by our trusting God to be faithful to us. Otherwise, our selfish fears will hinder us.

The faith in God commanded by Jesus (Mark 11:22) is not guesswork or wishful thinking. It is rather trust in God. It is trust in response to God's merciful intervention in our lives. Such faith includes an attitude of obedience toward God's will. The direction of faith as trust in God includes the obedient submission of my will to God's will. (See Romans 10:16-17, where Paul uses talk of obedience and talk of belief/faith interchangeably, and see Matt. 7:21 for the crucial place of obedience to God's will in Jesus's teaching.)

By entering into friendship with Jesus as Lord, we become reconciled to God and find satisfaction previously unknown. In this friendship, we find our idols losing their power to imprison us. We find a kind of satisfaction that makes idols pointless and even repulsive. We find God redeeming our alienated ways, bringing good out of bad. We find friendship with the living God, who has mercifully forgiven us and reconciled us to Himself in Jesus. We find life abundant. The Good News of Jesus becomes the heart of our new life. "If anyone is in Christ, he or she is a new creation." A new creation is a forgiven, reconciled creation, thanks to God in Jesus.

Forgiven

Nothing is calm
or settled or sure.
So broken are things between us.
So broken and far.
So broken and sad.
So broken, so torn
and nothing is calm.
I've ripped at the seams of Your love
with my ways.

Nothing I do
can stitch the deep ache,
the scourge in my soul
needing You.
And I try everything.
Please? — (maybe this)
Please?— (maybe that)
Please. — (but it's worse)
Please! — (even worse)
My threadless needle only leaves
more holes.

Worn out and torn
by my ways that don't work,
I still ache.
Now angry at You
for the distance I keep,
yet wanting You ever much more,
I cry humbled.
My enemy hands have broken our ties.
And as I assault You with all of my striving,
You dare to befriend even me.
With threads of forgiveness in true lovingkindness,
I am made whole and set free.

Washed

I carry dirt
without and within.
I bring trouble
wherever I go.
Where I am,
there is grief.

I wash myself
but am not clean.
My trouble within,
I try to clean.
It only hides
deeper within.

The One who cleans,
on His knees He comes.
He bows low
to reach even my feet.
He washes me clean
even within.
Who am I?

With mercy He cleans
and forgives even me.
He wipes away shame
and even my guilt.
He leaves me new,
as I am cleaned from within.
Renewed by mercy,
my heart turns pure.