In the last post, we left Jonah fuming over God’s mercy toward Ninevah (4:1-3). Why was Jonah so mad? He was cherishing his idol. He defended it, growing angry and despairing when it was shown to be an unreality with God. He continued to hold onto his idols rather than see them for what they really were. And after all that Jonah’s been through, after all the patience and grace God has shown him, what he does is unthinkable.
Yet God is still merciful. Look at his response to the overflow of Jonah’s sinful heart. Verse 4: “And the Lord said, ‘Do you do well to be angry?’” God doesn’t blast Jonah like he does Job, more or less asking him, ‘Who do you think you are? What right do you have to talk to me like this?” God’s response is much more muted than it could have been. He’s essentially saying to him, ‘Is this really necessary? Do you really have the right to be angry like this? Are you sure you’ve thought through your position on this one, Jonah?’
Here, he demonstrates an amazing patience with his prophet. And we should be thankful for that because this is often how he deals with us. We often profess our love for God, our dedication to Christ, yet live with idols every day. Think of the audacity of that—giving love that God alone deserves to something else. Think of the right God has to thunder down from heaven and call us on it. Can you imagine, standing one Sunday, singing “In Christ alone, my hope is found” only to hear a voice from heaven booming out: “If you your only hope is in my Son, then why do you hoard so much money in your bank account?” Or “Why do you worry so much about other people think about you?”
At his point in the story, Jonah had no interest in identifying his idols, only holding on them. In fact, life wasn’t worth living if he couldn’t have them. But what about us? Are we going to cherish our idols or smash them to bits and grind them to dust? I hope in your mind you’re crying out, ‘Smash!’ But how do we do it? Even if we’re open to seeing the idols in our lives, and once they’re exposed we haven’t defended them, how do we actually get rid of them? One last time, Keller is helpful to us. He says, “Idols cannot simply be removed. They must be replaced. If you only try to uproot them, they grow back; but they can be supplanted. By what? By God himself, of course. But by God we do not mean a general belief in his existence. Most people have that, yet their souls are riddled with idols. What we need is a living encounter with God.”
You see, Jonah knew the right theology, but he didn’t know it well enough. He didn’t really believe it as deeply as he should. He says, “I knew that you are a gracious God and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love, and relenting from disaster.” That’s exactly who God says he is in Exodus 34! Jonah’s right. But he fails to see that the Lord isn’t just that kind of God for Israel. He is that kind of God towards all the peoples of the earth!
Idolatry—as its root—is a failure to see God for who he really is. It’s failure to see him as sufficient for our lives. We think we need something else besides him. We trust and worship something besides God. And yet, it only God in which you will really find joy and satisfaction on the deepest level. It’s only in God that you will find, not just salvation from your circumstances, but salvation from your sins. Pastor Tim Chester says in order to truly see God, and so truly trust, love, and worship him, we need to believe four things:
1. If we believe God is great, then we don’t have to be in control.
2. If we believe God is glorious, then we don’t have to fear others.
3. If we believe God is good, then we don’t have to look elsewhere.
4. If we believe God is gracious, then we don’t have to prove ourselves.
In Counterfeit Gods, Keller tells the story of Darcey Steinke. She is the daughter of a Lutheran minister, and in her recent memoir, Easter Everywhere, she describes how she left her Christian upbringing, as well as her own profession of faith. She had moved to New York City and entered a life of club hopping and sexual obsession. While she was there she wrote several novels. In all of this, she had the appearance of an amazing, exciting life. Yet, she says she was extremely restless and unfulfilled. In the middle of the book she quotes from the Jewish philosopher, Simone Weill, as a summary of the main issue in her life. Here’s what Weill wrote and she quote: “One has only the choice between God and idolatry. If one denies God … one is worshiping some things of this world in the belief that one sees them only as such, but in fact, though unknown to oneself imagining the attributes of Divinity in them.”
Don’t deceive yourself and continue in your service to idols. Look to God—look to his greatness, his glory, his goodness, and his graciousness. Look to God as the soul-satisfying Treasure of your so that your idols can be ground to dust. Look to Jesus as the only true Savior who lived a righteous life that you might be righteous and who died a sinners death that you might be forgiven; look to Jesus so that your idols can be smashed and thrown out from your heart.
It’s only in worshipping God for who he really is that we will be free from our idols.