I’m reading through Jeremiah at the moment. Sigh. It’s so tragic, not to mention long. Recently at church we looked at Ezekiel together, and one thing I’ve learnt from Jeremiah and Ezekiel is this: the Lord hates idolatry. Sometimes I find myself turning to idols – comfort eating/retail therapy/thinking my husband can solve all of my problems – and I remind myself that those idols won’t satisfy me. They’re not good for me. And this is true – God uses it as a reason to turn from idols when he speaks to his people: ‘Where are the gods you made for yourselves? Let them come if they can save you when you are in trouble!’ Jeremiah 2:28.
But the first reason I shouldn’t worship idols is not actually to do with me and what I will or won’t get out of it. The first reason is that the LORD is the only true and living God, and he hates idolatry. He will not share his glory with another. Just read what he says to his people in Ezekiel 7v3-4:
The end is now upon you,
and I will unleash my anger against you.
I will judge you according to your conduct
and repay you for all your detestable practices.
I will not look on you with pity;
I will not spare you.
I will surely repay you for your conduct
and for the detestable practices among you.
It’s sobering stuff, isn’t it? Idolatry makes God angry, because he alone deserves all the glory:
But the Lord is the true God;
he is the living God, the eternal King.
When he is angry, the earth trembles;
the nations cannot endure his wrath…
He who is the Portion of Jacob is not like [idols],
for he is the Maker of all things… Jeremiah 10:10;16
So when I find myself trusting in other things, I need to repent and ask the Lord to give me a pure heart that worships him alone.
Sometimes, though, an idol is so ubiquitous and normal in our society that we might not even notice it. These are the dangerous ones, because if they’re even normal within the church, we’re much more likely to keep on trusting in them, and therefore not fully trusting in the Lord.
One example of a popular god in our society has caught my attention recently. This god is ruthless and cruel. It promises much: power, success, money, opportunity, legacy, freedom, but of course it cannot deliver. It will not satisfy. But also if you don’t live up to its high demands, this god will label you useless, stupid and an all-round failure. And even as its most devout followers begin to see the cracks and the disappointments in this religion, they are pushing their children harder in its rituals and practices. Perhaps they just need to work a little harder at it? Then they’ll really see results. They’ll have absolute security; they’ll be truly satisfied; they’ll really feel significant.
Have you guessed what it is yet? I hope so. This is the Western god of education, or perhaps I should say Academic Success. Now before you throw your laptop down in disgust (don’t do that, you’ll only regret it), I know that education and success in it are good things. For what it’s worth, I did extremely well academically at school and I know I’ve benefitted from that. But our society has turned this good thing into a false god, and the current generation of teenagers is being worked harder and put under more pressure than any generation before it. Youth groups suffer (i.e. discipleship takes a back seat) because teenagers can’t spare the time away from homework and revision. The local church ships its teenagers off to an independent school miles away while the school on its doorstep remains oblivious to the gospel message. Young people leave university, crippled with debt and still not knowing who they are or what to do with their lives. And all because we, not just our neighbours but our churches too, believe that salvation comes from being the top of the class.
Can I just reiterate that although I know I’m putting this strongly, I do believe that education itself is a good thing. If it adds weight to my argument, I did used to be a teacher and I loved it! And although I know this is a very contentious issue, I do believe we are free to send our children to whichever school seems right. I do also think that we need to examine and question our motives, particularly because the worship of Academic Success is all around us, inviting us in. Education might be a silver bullet, but it is not a saviour.
In a week’s time I will find out what school my daughter will be going to in September. Every year this gets in the newspapers, with headlines about ‘postcode lottery’ and parents almost having breakdowns with the stress of getting their kids into the ‘only good school in the area.’ As a mum, it’s really hard not to get swept along with the hysteria. Pangs of jealousy when you meet someone whose child got into the school yours didn’t get into. Lying in bed at night wondering whether she will be irrevocably damaged by a sub-standard primary school.
I could go on and on about this. If you know me personally, I’ve probably talked to you about it. Maybe I’ll write another post (or ten) about it in the future, but for now let me just encourage you that above all, your child needs Jesus. My daughter needs to know that the Lord made her – that’s who she is. The Lord loves her – that’s where her security lies. The Lord can forgive her sins – that’s her salvation.
The Lord loves your child, and his plans are perfect. This is true if you can afford the best prep school in the country; it’s true if your child has a scholarship to that prep school; it’s true if you home educate; it’s true if your child’s school is ‘bog standard.’ It’s true if your child’s school is the absolute worst performing primary school in the UK.
I love this from 1 Samuel: Do not turn away after useless idols. They can do you no good, nor can they rescue you, because they are useless (1 Samuel 12:21). In case we didn’t hear it the first time, he tells us again that the idols we make for ourselves are useless! Only the Lord is God.
So how do we do turn away from idols? As Tim Keller says in Counterfeit Gods, ‘idols must be displaced.’ We turn from idols by worshipping the Lord:
But blessed is the one who trusts in the Lord,
whose confidence is in him.
They will be like a tree planted by the water
that sends out its roots by the stream.
It does not fear when heat comes;
its leaves are always green.
It has no worries in a year of drought
and never fails to bear fruit.’ Jeremiah 17:7-8