August 15, 2008
The Fine Line Between Passion and Idolatry
If I say, "vegetable farm," do you think, "passion"? My friend Michelle does. She's a P.R. consultant to a prominent company, and her husband is an engineer. But responding to God's call, they're trading in their jobs and corporate incomes to take over her family's vegetable farm. She loves whole foods, natural living, cooking ? a perfect fit. It's a great example of how God can use and work through our passions for his purposes.
In The Purpose Driven Life, Rick Warren defines passion as the "bundle of desires, hopes, interests, ambitions, dreams, and affections you have? what you love to do and what you care about most."
Our passions are customized gifts to us from God. We feel alive and fulfilled when we engage in them. And through them, we meet and revel in God. When we embrace our passions and live them out well and to God's glory, we display him to the world. And conversely, ignoring or minimizing our passions disserves God, ourselves, and the people in our lives.
But what about when we O.D. on our passions?
As fallen humans we are very prone to this, and as Americans perhaps even more so - since our culture believes anything worth doing is worth doing bigger, faster, and more often.
Overdosing on our passions leads to idolatry. The average Christian knows that idolatry means elevating something to the status of God, and that she should stay away from it. Beyond that, she is apt to give it little or no thought.
I've realized, though, that a concrete grasp of how idolatry plays itself out in life is actually pretty important. Two practical approaches to personalizing idolatry that I've encountered and found insightful are:
1.Tim Keller says: Where does your mind usually go during down time, or when you're tired or lonely or frustrated? What do you turn over in your head to make you feel better or pass the time? That thing is apt to be, or eventually become, an idol to you.
2.Mark Dricoll asks: How would you define your own personal hell? Being fat or poor or bored or single? To what do you look to prevent you from living in this hell? Whatever it is, that thing is acting as your functional savior. It is the primary thing you sacrifice your time, money, attention for, and ultimately the thing you worship.
Idolatry is a big deal. In a sense it's the only deal, because if we live for something other than God, we can't have him in our life. He won't tolerate it, as he states unequivocally in the first commandment. So when our passions turn into idols, we live with a doubly destructive consequence: first, that we're trying to fulfill ourselves and derive our purpose through something that can never deliver, and second, that we're cut off from attaining true fulfillment and purpose because we've lost relationship with God.
The tricky part is walking the line between embracing our passions and becoming idolatrous. It's a fine line. We want to throw ourselves into the gifts, dreams, and ambitions God gave us. We want to steward our passions well and make something of them - make God proud! And we should. But going too far is crossing into idolatry and spells disaster, so discipline and vigilance are critical. And most critical is a continual surrender of our passions back to God to do with what he chooses.
My family spent time on this line recently, when my husband was offered a desirable job that meant relocation. An outdoorsman of outdoorsmen, he couldn't have been better suited to life on our 20-acre New England farm with wandering cows and sheep. God had put us on the farm, and it was our dream spot. But what now of the new possible job? With the offer, passion and potential idolatry raised parallel heads, and only my husband could sort out where God was leading.
We've all walked this line at some point. We'll walk it again, too, because God is seeking "true worshipers" (John 4:23), and only this wrestling can reveal our hearts to ourselves and to him. Will we live passionately, meeting God in and reflecting him through the passions he's put in us? But too, will we ensure that all our passions are ever subordinate to our consuming passion for him?