The Epistle of Mathetes to Diognetus begins by debunking the worship of both the pagans and unconverted Jews. The former worship that which are not gods, and the latter offer a worship that is unneeded and silly. Wishing to cooperate with my new nineteen hundred year old friend “Mathetes,” I started considering what my own idols might be. Nope, don’t worship money. I don’t build figures to adore as higher beings. I looked back at his introduction:
The first thing, then, is to clear away all the prejudices that clutter your mind and to divest yourself of any habit of through that is leading you into error. You must begin by being, as it were, a new man, ready, as you yourself put it, to give ear to a new story. You must take a look not only with your eyes, but with your mind, at what you call and consider gods, and ask: What substance or form can they really have?One of my favorite idols is The Right Way. There is a Right Way, of course, to do everything. There’s a Right Way to be together and foster spiritual growth. There’s a Right Way to pray, and study the Scriptures. Is that Right Way mine? Do I deify myself and my proclivities? Not blatantly. See, I don’t often think that I have found The Right Way, but I’m always looking for it. I have lived as if the formation of Christ in me, and the formation of Christ in us together, was somehow contingent upon me getting things right.
I honor the works of my own hands when I expect my own actions and the effectiveness of my spiritual strategies to do the work of forming me into Christlikeness. I muster the right effort, follow the right steps to guarantee growth, and nurture particular feelings and behaviors, hoping that the right information, and the right incantation will somehow do the work of transformation. These presumptions, that I am the guide of my own path in Christ, that I must figure out the right things to do, that God for whatever reason will not teach me these things, is very silly and sad. In making those presumptions, I would make a god of my own understanding, and fashion on idol out of my own accumulated knowledge. The Lord should accept my counsel, for I may yet figure out how to form Christians.
How can I honor the God who cannot be controlled? I can create an empty space sufficient for him to do his redeeming work, a space in which I can listen and hear: “give ear to a new story.” The Father is well versed in our brokenness and he knows how to heal it. What he would do is not necessarily what we should chose for ourselves, but that can surely be trusted, right? I will not accept any more savvy inventions, or hear any more promises of a quick fix. I will be quiet and do the right things for a long time. I will read, listen, work, pray and eat with my friends. I will learn the new story of God’s redemption of the world through Christ, and learn to speak it in everything I do.
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