Your affections control you more than you think
Mattot & Masei
Becoming What You Love
Thus says the LORD: "What wrong did your fathers find in me that they went far from me, and went after worthlessness, and became worthless?" (Jeremiah 2:5)
Again this week, we are looking at the Haftarah portion, the selection from the Prophets section of the Hebrew Bible that accompanies the Torah (Books of Moses) reading. Again this week the Haftarah is taken from the book of Jeremiah. Jeremiah lived in a most dismal time in Israel's history as the Babylonians were in the process of overtaking the land; destroying the city of Jerusalem including the holy Temple; and exiling most of the people to their capital Babylon.
During this time Jeremiah continued to warn the people of their wayward ways. Tragically, the people's situation was at times misinterpreted by them as an indication of the superiority of the gods of the conquering peoples instead of God's judgement. They failed to see that it was their idolatry that got them into trouble in the first place. So rather than returning to the One who years before overcame their slavery in Egypt, miraculously provided for and protected them in the wilderness, enabled them to conquer the Land of Canaan against all odds, and came through for them time and time again since, they preferred to give their hearts to worthless gods.
One might think that the worthlessness of idols would be more apparent. Did they really believe that statues had the power to make their lives better? But it's not so much idolatrous statues themselves that have power, but what the statues represent. To worship the Babylonian gods demonstrates one's allegiance to the power and place of Babylon. Since in reality there is only one God, idols represent other forces - principles, traditions, and political allegiances - all of which are demonically inspired (see Devarim/Deuteronomy 32:16-17; 1 Corinthians 10:20). Their worthlessness is not a nothing, but a powerfully destructive force, blinding those who worship them, leading them into an ever deepening pit of darkness.
Jeremiah expresses the downward spiral of idol worship by saying that those who go after such worthless things become worthless themselves. Whatever we set our affection upon slowly but surely transforms us into its likeness. It's not that idol worshippers actually become idols, but the power and principles behind those idols overtake the worshipper, who then becomes whatever the idols represent.
By the way, worship isn't solely to do with religious observances, such as prayer, singing sacred songs, or other rituals. Worship is the giving of oneself in service to someone or something. So whatever you love in your life - those things that easily draw your time, attention, and money - that's what you worship - that's what you become.
Now for a personal confession: I grew up watching television. Lots of television (that's not the confession yet). But when I came to know Yeshua around age 19, many of my interests changed, including that one. A few years later, when I got married, my wife and I had no intention of having a TV. We did eventually acquire a small one to watch videos for ourselves and/or our children, but we were always very careful what we watched. Over time the little TV was replaced by bigger ones, and for brief periods we had cable. We still hardly watched, except for special occasions, such as the Olympics (if I remember correctly we have cancelled cable three times and went long stretches without having it). But since last fall, I have been watching a lot more. It's partly due to our new flat-screen, high-definition TV and the great deal we got for basic cable and a personal video recorder (though as you may know you don't need cable to have a good amount of viewing options due to what's available on the Internet). So for the past while, especially towards the end of the evening, when at one time I would read or do other things, I watch something. Compared to the North American average it's not that much, but that's beside the point. The point is that not only has it become my go-to each evening, but I find myself becoming more and more lethargic, making it easier to sit in front of the TV.
While becoming absorbed in television doesn't turn me into a television, it has lured me into a core cultural phenomena - victim mentality. Think that's an overblown assessment? Think about it. Whether its news, sports, weather, or entertainment, the common characteristic of almost all television programming is that it draws us emotionally into life situations, real or otherwise, that we can't do anything about. Shouting at our favorite sports team through the screen doesn't count as doing something. Television reinforces the lie that somewhere beyond our reach are powerful forces that affect our lives and very few people can do anything about it. When we feel helpless to bring about positive change by constructive activity, that's a victim mentality.
Victims often feel worthless, but we are not worthless. We are made in God's image to serve him in all sorts of ways to make a difference in a hurting, sinful world. Through Yeshua the Messiah we have been redeemed from the downward spiral of worthlessness. I don't want to be worthless, but I think it will require a new relationship with my flat screen TV…and my computer, and my smart phone.
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