When Jesus Becomes an Idol

Peter Rollins, that tortured Irish metaphysicist (all Irish philosophers are tortured in some way) wrote a book that blew up my perspective of religion, and the Divine, in all the right ways. It’s title is provocative enough to prompt a purchase, _The Idolatry of God_, but the guts of the book are even more disturbing (again, in all the right ways) than the title.

Rollins argues that the church has made God into an idol, taking the base core of a movement of spirituality, bronzing it, and setting it up as a thing which they demand others bow to instead of seeing the Divine as the blowing beauty of a wind which moves through all others.

In other words: we’ve traded imagination and mystery for certainty and legality.

The barrier-breaking ways of God were turned by the hands of a people who didn’t know how to rightfully wrestle with power and Divine purpose, and instead they created a bastardized version of God who erected walls instead of walked on water.

An extension of his argument is the one I note above: many times the church has created an idol out of Jesus, too. It’s a bit easier to do, honestly, as the historical figure of Jesus becomes the archetype of the answer to all questions.

Got problems? Look to Jesus.

Want answers? Jesus is the answer.

Got pain? Jesus heals.

Need wisdom? Jesus knows.

The issue here is that these are non-statements. Non-statements are worse than insider-speak, by the way. Non-statements avoid the question altogether with an answer that is as empty as the air used to form the words.

I recently was part of a group of people talking about stewardship, and one of them said in humility and honest devotion, “I just trust that God will provide and tell that to everyone I meet.”

The problem I see with that, though, is that it seems for many in the world God is falling short of the job, you know? Like, for many in the world God is not providing. Hope is not a strategy.

One could argue, of course, that the way that God provides for the needs of the world is through my wallet and your hands and our collective effort. That I can get onboard with. But…you see the disconnect between the first platitude and the second description?

In this Sunday’s Gospel (John 12:20-33), some Greeks come to see Jesus when he’s traveling around.

To your ears this may not be a big deal, but notice that it doesn’t say that these are Jewish people living in Greece. Greeks, Gentiles, are coming to see Jesus. And the disciples are not sure what to do about it, you know? Philip and Andrew have to convene a committee to see if it can happen. Other disciples have to get involved. And the issue, “Can these Greeks seek an audience with Jesus?” is never directly resolved.

“So what,” you might say.

Look, a big question around Jesus, and God (by association), was that old Bee Gee’s question, “How Big is Your Love?” Or, rather, “how big is God’s love?”

Were Greeks included?

Jesus answers it, of course, in the following paragraph, noting that when he is “lifted up” (an allusion to the cross, btw, not to some “throne of power” that evangelical hacks will push on you), he will “draw all people unto himself.”

All people. Including Greeks, no committee needed.

All people. Including LGBTQIA+ people. NO COMMITTEE NEEDED (looking at you, Vatican).

All people. Including undocumented immigrants.

All people. Including <insert category of people you dislike>.

Religion has turned Jesus into a gate-keeper rather than a gate; into a sheep-shearer, trimming away “sin” instead of a shepherd leading people through the valley of the shadow of death.

Religion has turned Jesus into a catch-all answer to questions that deserve real thought, you know?

And I say that with a deep love for religion…as a branch manager for so many years, I say it with deep love.

But in human hands amazing boundary-crossing Love so easily becomes border-making legality, that we must constantly be asking ourselves, “In what ways are we making Jesus into an idol, emptying the Divine of life-changing radicality?”

So…what’s your answer?

1 thought on “When Jesus Becomes an Idol

  1. I recall having a conversation with my new pastor some years ago, who was fond of asking people, “Why do you follow Jesus?” I don’t remember my exact reply, but it did lead her to re-phrase her question, at least to me, to ask, “Why are you a Christian?”

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