Put away your idols

There’s a story in the book of Joshua that I can’t get out of my head. As the end of his life neared, Joshua, Son of Nun, Moses’s successor, gave one last message to the Israelites as they prepared to make their lives in the promised land. And his call was simple: “It’s time to make your choice: worship God or worship your idols.”

“Now obey the Lord and worship him with integrity and loyalty,” Joshua said. “Put aside the gods your ancestors worshiped beyond the Euphrates and in Egypt, and worship the Lord. If you have no desire to worship the Lord, then choose today whom you will worship” (Joshua 24:14–15, NET).

The people, of course, declared their fidelity to God. They swore they would worship him and him alone. But Joshua was doubtful, warning them of the consequences of turning away from the Lord. The people continued to insist they would not fall away. “No! We really will worship the Lord,” they said (Joshua 24:21, NET).

After they swore an oath of fidelity, Joshua commanded one last time, “Now put aside the foreign gods that are among you and submit to the Lord God of Israel” (Joshua 24:23, NET).

Where we really are in this

It’s that last line, in particular, that keeps sitting with me. “Put aside the foreign gods that are among you.” Or, another way to say it might be, “Put away your idols.” And as I’ve considered the response to former President Donald Trump’s conviction on all 34 counts of falsification of business records in the first degree (a felony in the state of New York), this call from Joshua weighs heavily.

In some ways, the response has been predictable. While much of his opposition responded on a spectrum ranging from relief to delight, many of his supporters declared the trial a politically motivated sham. (His campaign, naturally, turned it into a fundraiser.)

Several of his supporters among evangelicals have followed suit. Op-eds obfuscate the details of the case while calling for the continued support of a candidate whose character they condemned less than a decade earlier. Why? Because, apparently, he’s not “a tool of the radical left.”

Others have been more unhinged in their support, as memes of Jesus comforting Trump and outright comparisons of the two run rampant: “If you’re not sure you can vote for a convicted criminal, remember, you worship one.”

Now, we can argue about all kinds of things when it comes to the relationship between Christians and politics in America. We all, I think, can agree that it’s weird at best. But this goes beyond weird.

This is idolatry.

There is no other way to describe it. And not just in the (morally and theologically incompetent) comparisons between Jesus and Trump. It’s the insistence that voting for a specific party is the way to please the Lord, even if that means joining the thief and adulterer (Psalm 50:18). It’s the craving for temporal power and influence. Parties and candidates are a means to an end.

Idolatry is destroying us

The problem with idolatry, worshiping anyone or anything other than the triune God—Father, Son, and Spirit—is that it doesn’t simply corrupt us spiritually. It corrupts our conduct as well. Think about the Lord’s condemnation in Psalm 50:19–21:

You do damage with words,
and use your tongue to deceive.
You plot against your brother;
you slander your own brother.
When you did these things, I was silent,
so you thought I was exactly like you (NET).

And how true this is. We take the Lord’s apparent silence as his endorsement—despite him not being silent at all. It’s not as if the Bible is not clear on the dangers of pride, power, and possessions. It’s as though, with scandal after scandal, with every new revelation, the Lord is offering people an out, the same way Joshua continued to say, “Choose who you will worship.”

But with every opportunity, instead of coming to their senses (Luke 15:17), too many dig their heels in just a little deeper. Why? Because doing so would mean they would have to admit they were wrong.

It is exhausting, and it’s hard not to become cynical. I’m tired of seeing people I once respected fall prey to folly. I’m sick of men and women dishonoring the name of Jesus as they bear false witness about him with their conduct and character.

We become what we worship (Psalm 135:15–18). “What people revere, they resemble, either for ruin or for restoration,” Greg Beale wrote. What comes out of our mouths (or our keyboards) says something about our hearts (Matthew 12:34).

And what I’m seeing from people who should know better frightens me. It’s not a liberal drift or “radical left” ideology that threatens to tear the American evangelical church apart. It’s idolatry.

Put away your idols

So here’s my plea: put away your idols. Come back into the light before it is too late. Flee from the wrath to come (John 1; cf. Psalm 50:22). My fear for so many is that, at best, they will be saved as one who is snatched from the fire (Jude v. 23). Everything they’ve built, their reputation, their “legacy,” all of it will burn away because it is meaningless (1 Corinthians 3:15).

But there are others for whom my fear is deeper: that in the end, they will not hear, “well done,” but “I never knew you; depart from me” (Matthew 7:23; 25:41). I am not foolish or arrogant enough to assert who I think is in and who I think is out, certainly not publicly. That is for the Lord to decide, and I am not him.

But what I can see is fruit. And the fruit I see is spoiled; rotten. The plant is sick. But it’s not so far gone that it can’t be healed. But it needs fresh water and healthy soil. So, turn off cable news. Step out of the echo chamber. Read the Scriptures. Repent. Pray. And, in some cases, resign. Put away your idols. Follow Jesus instead.

Photo by Thomas Kinto on Unsplash

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