The Idolatry of Our Expectations


The Idolatry of Our Expectations

As discussed in chapter two of The Marriage Commandments, a religious idol is essentially anything that's used as a surrogate for God. Idols are often a means of attempting to satisfy our insecurities. They're replacements for God that we use to give us a sense of control, possession, and security. 

For modern Christians, it's no surprise that idols come in many forms. We often hear sermons about how sports, careers, materialism, and even our own families can become idols in our lives. All of that is true. However, there's a much more widespread and destructive idol that often goes undetected: Ourselves. Specifically, we often fall victim to the idolatry of our aspirations for our own lives.

We want life on our terms. We want everything to unfold in accordance with our hopes. This desire touches all aspects of life. We want careers that make us feel fulfilled. We want religion, politics, and government to give us a sense of peace and comfort. We desire families and children that will make us happy. We have high expectations for the fate of our health, homes, finances, and relationships. Etcetera. 

But does the future bring us what we actually want? Do our longterm plans materialize exactly as expected? Occasionally — but never always.

Don't make the mistake of assuming that your plans are God's will. You don't know what's best for you. Most people don't even know what they really want or what gives them true peace (shalom). We're often too selfish and emotionally invested in our own lives to be objective about our needs and value — let alone the needs and value of those around us. The love of God compels Him to always do what is good for us, even when it hurts or feels unkind, unwarranted, and contrary to our hopes.

We make idols of our own plans when we trust in them to provide our sense of identity, purpose, success, and happiness. By seeking to assert our own desires over God's will, we prioritize ourselves before God. Worse, we often mistakenly assume that God's will is aligned with our own. In so doing, we attempt to make God in our own image, instead of conforming ourselves into the image of God.

All of this often causes longterm problems. It sets us up for ruin, both spiritual and otherwise.

When people make idols out of their specific career goals, they close the door to opportunities that may fall outside their field. If a man plans his entire life around being a father, what happens if he never marries or finds out that he's infertile? What if a woman plans on being a farmer but then finds herself paralyzed? What if a church insists on physical healing only through prayer, and the person dies? What if our kids don't Iive as long as we'd hoped? What happens when our investments fall through? Or our candidate doesn't win? Or Christ's return is further delayed? Or our pastor gets arrested?

The job you want. The home you "deserve." The family you desire. The friendships you ache for. The beauty you crave. The health you expect. Your "birth plan." Your government. Your income. Life is filled with plans and hopes that may neither materialize nor last. 

Layoffs, market changes, wars, sexual dysfunction, surgeries, adultery, theft, injuries, drugs, diseases, natural disasters, lawsuits, and death are just a few of the types of things we face that probably aren't in our life plans. Disruptions happen. If you're trusting in your plans for your personal value and happiness, you're going to face incredible difficulty when your plans are disrupted by life. You can't control the disruptions, but you can control your response. 

Instead of responding to the inevitable failure of our idolatrous plans with angst and a sense of damnation, we should adopt a position of gratitude. In every life disruption, we have the opportunity to learn two very important things:

  1. who we truly are; and
  2. who God has always been.

When the Hebrews left Egypt, they had high hopes of a comfortable life of freedom. But, instead of leading them to a peaceful oasis, God led them immediately to a waterless desert, a murderous army, and foodless wilderness. Through these unplanned disruptions, Yahweh was able to teach the Israelites that He was much more than just their deliverer; He was also their healer, strength, and provider. Likewise, even in our most difficult situations, we have the opportunity to experience growth in our understanding. Moreover, I believe that it is God's will for us to experience hardships. Not because they're good, but because they're for our good. And that's cause for gratitude. 

So, when steering your life, go ahead and hope, dream, and make plans. But don't let your plans become idols. Never let your sense of identity, purpose, success, or happiness rest in the future. 

— John