I don’t know if I’m right in the following thoughts. These are just some connections I’ve been making in my own mind and blogging seemed to be a good place to lay them out there. As I’ve been reading in Romans 1, the thought occurred to me, the problem with idolatry isn’t just giving allegiance to another deity (bad as that is). The problem of idolatry in Paul’s perspective is that the idols imprison the truth in injustice.
That is, idolatry is the manifestation and cause of a world where both individuals and communities practice injustice against one another and thereby deny the truth of one another’s humanity. It is the manifestation and cause of a world where neither individuals nor communities can challenge or change (or even desire to change) these unjust practices and structures that dehumanize people created in God’s image.
The truth, both on an individual and collective level, becomes imprisoned within the unjust practices and agendas of various human cultural systems. And therefore the truth is not readily obvious – for we have traded what could be known about God for gods made in our own image, gods that will support rather than challenge our unjust hearts and communities.
Wrath then becomes God’s response to human injustice. Wrath is not the unbridled passion of a heartless God. It is the inevitable outcome of a God who values just relationships both on vertical (human to God) and horizontal (human to human) planes. Wrath exists because human injustice is so grave and terrible, and our hearts so apt to imprison the truth in injustice such that we can never see the truth about ourselves or God, that creation itself becomes perverted and inverted.
And this inversion of creation takes us back to idolatry, specifically the collective idolatry of the entire human race. It is an idolatry which perpetuates and is perpetuated by injustice.
Even in the OT, idolatry wasn’t just about the differences between Yahweh and the pagan deities. Rather, in scripture, idolatry always carries with it the practical implications of unethical behavior, specifically blood shed unjustly. In other words, idolatry is both a violation of a person’s vertical relationship with God and also a violation of their horizontal relationship with other persons. When we imprison truth in injustice, this is not just a violation of our relationship with God, but is a violation of our relationships with those created in his image.
Idolatry is thus dehumanization of my neighbor (among other things).
I therefore maintain, that even if one calls on Jesus and then uses the name Jesus to dehumanize another person, or somehow uses Jesus to promote injustice, then that person is participating in idolatry even if they are using the right language. The God of scripture cannot be reduced to my ideological agenda, he will not be shackled to anyone’s unjust causes, and he will not be associated with the dehumanization even of my enemy. Idolatry is, therefore, both a horizontal and a vertical injustice.
So, what do you think? Do you have anything to add to this random collection of thoughts? Where have you seen idolatry and injustice combined in obvious ways? How does this change the way we talk about the gospel?