Worship at the Mall?

There are certain passages in the Bible that are quoted so frequently that we can easily fail to hear them honestly; they have been marshalled in support of so many tangential causes (or crusades) that we have a hard time separating the actual text from those very causes, some of which we might not identify as our own. For Day Twelve of Lent, we venture onto such a passage, Rom. 1:16-25:

16 For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. 17 For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith for faith, as it is written, “The righteous shall live by faith.”

18 For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth. 19 For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. 20 For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse. 21 For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened. 22 Claiming to be wise, they became fools, 23 and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and creeping things.

24 Therefore God gave them up in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, to the dishonoring of their bodies among themselves, 25 because they exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever! Amen.

Throughout the forty days of Lent this site has been encouraging a repentance of the mind–an examination of thoughts we hold about God, the world, and ourselves from which repentance might be necessary. Continuing with that theme, what is there in this passage which gives pause to the way we customarily think? Is there a use to which the passage has been put that does not hold up when it is honestly reconsidered?

It is obvious enough that we do not physically create images to substitute for God; but it is not at all obvious that we do not create mental images of who God is or of what we are to worship. Jonathan Wilson, for example, recognizes the worship of the creature that is so common in our culture (see his book, Why Church Matters). It is exhibited in our shopping malls, fitness clubs, theaters, and stadiums, where millions of us worship an unreal image of the human person. We are frequently more concerned about faithfulness to those images than we are to the worship of the true God from whom and to whom all things flow. So we buy, we sweat, and we fawn over those who have obtained an ability, brief though it may be, to represent what we are chasing in futility. And God has let us go on our way, giving us over to what we have implicitly said that we wanted.

This pattern is so much a part of our culture that we have difficulty recognizing it. We need to learn new patterns if we are to break free and serve God whole-heartedly and joyfully. May the Spirit of God bring fresh insights to each of us to see the extent to which we have abandoned true worship of the Creator and served the creature instead.

I welcome any additional insights spawned by the passage of the day and by our need to confess the false worship we have fallen into.


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