A.W. Tozer said that the “essence of idolatry is the entertainment of thoughts about God that are unworthy of Him.” Since Jesus is God it may be helpful to look at ways we practice Jesus idolatry. This following sentence may be a quote or a mashing together of several quotes that I heard. When Jesus likes that same people and things you like and dislikes the same people and things you dislike, it is likely that you have made a Jesus in your own image. We often like to make idols of Jesus in our minds that are comfortable to us. We have Jesus’ that are political conservatives, we have Jesus’ that celebrate diversity, we have Jesus’ that are pacifists, and Jesus’ that only listen to Christian music. Some Jesus’ are the “Historical Jesus”, stripped of all supernatural abilities. Other Jesus’ have their deity so emphasized that their humanity is ignored, a dangerous form of Gnosticism. Perhaps a short example from my own life will illustrate this.
During this summer I spent a lot of time camping. While in Alaska and the Steens Mountains in Eastern Oregon I read through the gospels. I realized that Jesus spent a lot of time outdoors and frequently slept outside with his disciples. Essentially he was homeless, relying on the hospitality of others. Personally this made me very uncomfortable. I knew what extended camping was like, how you smelled and looked after days on the road and sleeping outside, even in a tent. I also tend to have a lower view of people who are homeless. What was my God, my Savior doing, living like this? Also disturbing was how often the gospels record him going to eat with people. I didn’t count, but I estimated that he is recorded attending meals as much or more then he is going out to pray with to his Father alone. He did this so often that his enemies called him a glutton and friend of sinners and tax collectors.
When this happens something needs to change and it needs to be me. Often we approach the Bible and Jesus with a topic a see how that idea is supported in Scripture. Where does Jesus talk about how to respond to enemies or use of money? If you ignore the context the Bible can confirm almost anything. Rather we should read through the Bible and especially the gospels and see what they talk about. What does Jesus talk about? It is impossible to completely remove biases when approaching a text, but it is helpful to be aware of them. This may be helpful in reducing idolatry. Most importantly, we need to remember that Jesus is someone outside of us and when we think we understand him completely there is always room to “go farther up and further in.” There is danger in not knowing enough and thinking that we know more completely. A rough paraphrase of a quote from Lewis says give me God, not my idea of him. Naturally he will do and say things that make us uncomfortable or we will not understand. It is us that need to be conformed to his image, not him to our mental image of him. After all, he is not a tame lion.