Idol Factory: Recognition

The worship of God can be used to feed an idol. That is to say, if your idol is recognition or fame then we can turn even something like singing praises to God into an opportunity to point people to ourselves. In these instances the goal of our singing is to hear people say, “look how godly he is” or “do you see how unencumbered they are in worship,” or “doesn’t she have a beautiful singing voice.” Of course in those instances we are not really worshiping God, we are worshiping ourselves. But that distinction can sometimes be hard to see and easy to dismiss. But that is true of the idol of recognition in general.

It’s easy to think that our pursuit of recognition is really a good, honest, pursuit. After all “we are just trying to do the best we can at our job.” And shouldn’t credit go “where credit is deserved.” And ultimately after all the hours we put in, all that we’ve sacrificed, we deserve the pat on the back. Fundamentally, the idol of recognition is self-worship. It’s about what we think we are owed. But the pursuit of this idol will always leave your self-worth in jeopardy.

There are two ways that the idol of recognition manifests itself. One comes from a high view of ourselves. We see how “awesome” we are, and expect that everyone else should see it too. Of course when others don’t see it, don’t recognize us for it, or don’t see it to the degree we do then our self-image becomes shaky. We begin to feel like the king who has been running around with no clothes, telling everyone how beautiful our robes are. In those moments are response is usually defensive. We become angry and blame others for their failure to see our “awesomeness.” Tim Keller writes:

One of the signs that an object is functioning as an idol is that fear becomes one of the chief characteristics of life. When we center our lives on the idol, we become dependent on it. If our counterfeit god is threatened in any way, our response is complete panic. We do not say, “What a shame, how difficult,” but rather “This is the end! There’s no hope!” (Counterfeit Gods, 99)

Fear is evidence of idolatry. And fear can make us give up hope, but it can also cause us to lash out in anger. That’s what some of us do when our idol is threatened. We respond with hurtful words and glares. We group people who can’t see our greatness into the categories of ignorant or vindictive. Everyone is either out to get us or they are too stupid to see our importance.

In other book Keller asks us to consider the statement “hurt feelings.” What does this mean? It can’t really mean that our feelings are hurting, a feeling isn’t a real thing that has responses and emotions. What we usually mean is that our ego has not been satisfied. Someone slighted us and that upsets us. What we mean is that our idol has not been fed. But there is another way we manifest the idol of recognition.

Some of us really do believe we aer worthy of praise. But others of us have such a low self-worth that we are constantly looking to the affirmation of others to give us value. We work hard because we want that pat on the back, we need it to feel like we are worthwhile people. We are dependant on others for our identity. In this case when our idol is not fed we may panic and respond in abandonment and hopelessness. Here fear may lead to our surrender. But regardless of how we manifest our idolatry, the god of recognition will never be satisfied.

In every case we will always feel like our identity is hanging by a thread. We will always feel like a fake, a failure, a phony, on the brink of being found-out. No recognition will be enough to satisfy and quench the thirst of our god. And so our life becomes a constant quest for more recognition, more honor. That scholar who is smarter than me becomes  a threat. That mother who seems to accomplish more than me is my enemy. We tell ourselves stories to make us feel better. “That pastor whose church is bigger than mine is probably not as godly as I am.” At all costs we must feed the idol, but its stomach is a bottomless pit.

The answer ultimately, for the Christian, is to find their self-worth and value in the God who loved them enough to die for them. Who we are is far worse that we are often willing to admit. We may think we are failures at work, terrible moms, not as good an athelete as someone else, etc. But ultimatley the Bible says our real nature is far worse: we are enemies of God. The most wretched of things, terrible people who hate God and disobey him and deserve only one thing: hell. But then the Bible says that God loves us, wretched worms that we are, and has gone to great lengths to rescue us from his wrath. Paul writes:

And you were dead in the trespasses and sins  2 in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience-  3 among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind.  4 But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us,  5 even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ- by grace you have been saved-  6 and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus,  7 so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. (Ephesians 2:1-7)

The idol of recognition says God’s favor on me is not enough, but what more could you need? What more could possibly offer the value and worth that you have as a child of God. What more could God give you to satisfy your need for acceptance than his only Son on the cross? It is a question to wrestle with seriously.

The idol of recognition will never satisfy you. But God’s acceptance, when truly see and understood, is more than we deserve and more than enough to fuel us in the fight against idolatry.

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