Idolatry has been the essence of mainstream religion to this day.
Idolatry is derived from eidos (essence). It speaks to any attempt to make God accessible either aesthetically (in form — like in a pair of Air Jordans) or conceptually (a theological belief system — like Crossfit).
Both are idols. One is physical while the other is intellectual.
What’s interesting is, the Bible repeatedly attacks idolatry.
Unlike most churches say, the Bible doesn’t just give one objective definition of God. It gives us a gazillion (or so) depictions of God — ranging from a loving God to one who kills a shitload of people with no mercy. From a static God to one who is omnipresent. I could go on.
The Bible is a dynamic text constructed from an array of human perspectives through a variety of mediums (poetry, prose, history, law, myth, etc.) all having one huge, confusing, awkward orgy.
The writers and editors of the Bible had no shame about this. They didn’t even try to change these inconsistencies. If anything, they celebrated it.
It seems the key point of the Bible was to keep us from forming an idol/ideal (like what I did there?) about God.
The Bible is not an ideological text. It’s anti-ideological. It tells us that creative tension and inconsistencies are all we can expect when we speak of God. (Hell, they even give God a name that’s impossible to pronounce, YHWH. WTF?)
God cannot be pinpointed, objectified and defined through the human mind.
The writers of the Bible make this clear through their countless descriptions of God as darkness, mystery, a veil, cloud, etc.
This is intentional. Everything they said about God was about concealment, hiding, and keeping God a secret. This God of the Bible is one beyond all figuring out. Think of it: how many theology nerds over these last couple thousand years have failed at this?
Our definition of God always comes up short…
If I say God is good, I get rear-ended at the stop light driving to Starbucks (because I’m basic like that). If I say God is an asshole, I get a winning lottery ticket (just kidding, this has never happened).
It’s impossible to capture the entirety of God in our human minds, using human words. That said, in my opinion, this doesn’t mean we should stop trying.
I wrote yesterday that experiencing the divine is a lot like standing before an incredible work of art in a museum (again, these are just words, they fall short, but bear with me). If you and I are standing there gaping at this art piece, I think we should tell each other what it means to us. The problem is when we make an idol out of our ideals about the art. This is where we get into a — shall we say — kerfuffle?
Great art renders us speechless due to the enormity of the experience we have before it. But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t attempt to capture that experience in words, music, poetry, etc. Quite the opposite, in fact. We should allow this divine moment to spark off an infinite discussion about it. If we give each other the freedom to do this without defending our idols to the death, we can allow ourselves to grow from this never-ending discourse.
The nice thing about the divine is you don’t need to go to a museum. I had an encounter with the divine just yesterday at the gas station.
When we embrace the mystery that is God/life (which are one in the same) we deepen our experience rather than limit it into a set of dogmatic boundaries (yes, I’m talking to you atheists too).
P.S. I can’t take credit for that awesome title, btw. That was all Meister Eckhart. Gotta give credit where it’s due. Also gotta give credit to this book for the inspiration for this post (and probably many more to come).