“All who make idols are nothing, and the things they treasure are worthless.” (Isaiah 44:9)
Intellectually I understand that there is only one Savior, only one God. I publicly profess that in Creed form on a weekly basis. But functionally, operationally in my day-to-day life, I’ve often lived as though something other than Jesus could (and was necessary to) answer all my biggest problems. It’s always felt like there was simply one major thing off in my life that, if I could somehow tweak it, alter it, manage it, control it, have it, or get rid of it, everything undesirable about my life would go away and I’d finally be happy.
Bear in mind, this false, pseudo-savior has changed repeatedly throughout my life. In my younger years it waffled between physical health, academics, athletics, social approval, or something as profound as having a pretty girl like me. Unfortunately, as a pastor, pseudo-saviors haven’t disappeared. They’ve simply mutated into forms that Satan know will expose the current weaknesses of my faith. So…sometimes the pseudo-savior has approached in the form of congregational approval, new members, blog traffic (by the way, just a reminder to like us or share on Facebook 🙂 ). Sometimes even a call to a new position in ministry feels like it would save me. My point is, all these years and all this heartache later, there still always seems to be something that Satan polishes up and dangles in front of me. And he disparages me unceasingly, taunting, “You talentless loser! If only you could be/have ___________, then you might be worth the spot you occupy on earth.” And I fall for it.
So I’ve learned countless times that whatever that damned Liar dangles is illusory. Man, I hate him. He often seems to know me better than I know myself. Still, when in my right mind, I realize that whatever he presents as THE answer to my inadequacies is either A) not as powerful and healing as I thought it to be, or B) it’s unobtainable through mere willpower, or else I would have had it long ago. Typically, it’s both.
I know I’m not alone. I’ve come to find that many people have similar pseudo-saviors as me, something along the lines of an inordinate craving for power, influence, and success.
Take for instance the story of 36-year-old Swedish journalist and Oscar-winning film director named Malik Bendjelloul. Bendjelloul recently committed suicide a year after his 2013 Academy Award win for best documentary – Searching for Sugar Man. Immediately people started to ask…
“How could such a talented artist choose to take his life at the height of his creative powers, when anything seemed possible and probably was? And how did a positive, happy person fall into the depths of despair with almost no one being the wiser?”
Apparently, in the final weeks of his life, Bendjelloul was lamenting to his friends his horrifying fear that he had inexplicably “lost his creativity.” The overwhelming pressure of living up to his previous success crippled him to the point that he deemed life not worth living. For my money, “potential” is the scariest word in the English language.
It sounds like the Swedish filmmaker had the same pseudo-savior that I do. And like him, falling for this idol makes me miserable time and again. Anytime your idols are exposed, it’s both humbling and clarifying. A pseudo-savior of success tends to cause me to constantly feel burdened, creates in me a fear of humiliation, leads me to be tempted to see other humans as objects to be used to advance personal agenda, and often brings about a great deal of anger when things don’t go my way. How’s that for self-awareness?
Now that might not be you, but I want you to be unflinchingly honest with yourself about yourself too. Like Bendjelloul and me, you also have something that Satan tempts you to think is the Savior that’s not really the Savior.
Perhaps you have a pseudo-savior of love, romance, or approval. This causes you to struggle with feelings of dependency. You fear rejection. You occasionally smother others. And the thought of upsetting people brings great consternation because you derive too much of your self-worth and happiness from them.
Perhaps you have a pseudo-savior of comfort. This causes you to struggle with low productivity. You fear the many demands of life. Your aversion to discomfort causes you to weigh down others who need to pick up your slack. And eliminating as many “challenges” of life as possible has actually made your life disproportionately boring.
Perhaps you have a pseudo-savior of standards and control. It causes you to struggle with loneliness, because people who fail to meet your standards are irritating to you. You fear uncertainty and are paralyzed by the variables of life. You self-righteously condemn others who don’t meet your manmade standards. And a lack of “control” causes you persistent worry.
Did I not get you yet? (for further help diagnosing this, I would highly recommend Timothy Keller’s The Prodigal God and Counterfeit Gods.)
Pseudo-saviors don’t just function on a personal level, either. It seems undeniable to me at this point that these false messiahs function on a macro level as well, local deities that subjugate cultures, peer groups, or even church bodies. Let’s take church bodies, for example. Even churches seem to have certain things that they elevate to near divine status that aren’t divine. From my perspective, Roman Catholicism has a tendency to do this with church leadership. Eastern Orthodoxy does this with rite and ceremony. Liberal churches do this with personal freedoms. I get the impression that Baptists and non-denominationals tend to do this with the earthly state of heaven-bound souls, i.e. they think that either in our natural or regenerate state we’re closer to divine than, in actuality, we are. I obviously have more experience with my own church body, conservative Lutheranism. To pretend that we don’t struggle with our own pseudo-saviors would be prideful and blind. What are they? Probably depends who you ask. I personally get a little uncomfortable whenever hearing effusive praise showered upon a specific worship style, schooling system, or church body itself. These very well may be blessings. But they’re not saviors. And believing that anything other than Jesus, even a good thing, can rescue someone from the flames of hell, is at best inaccurate, at worst, soul-threatening.
The bottom line is that all of us have SOMETHING, a pseudo-savior, a good thing that we’ve turned into a god-thing, which creates debilitating complications in our feeble hearts. The only way to shovel those problems out of the heart is repentance. I grew up repenting of my immoralities – the lying, the stealing, the attitude problems, and the dirty thoughts. I never really repented for the pseudo-saviors that demanded these sacrifices, however. Now I do. Interestingly…as I’ve matured in faith, I don’t repent less, but more. I finally understand why the first of Luther’s 95 Theses was “Our Lord and Master Jesus Christ…willed that the whole life of believers should be repentance.” Brilliant.
The thing that can damage you in the most profound way is actually the thing that you falsely believe can save you. Your worst enemy is the one who’s tricked you into thinking he’s your best friend. Anything not named Jesus cannot save you. And believing it can will kill you.
Jesus is different. Part of the great evidence that he is your only true Savior is that he was killed for you. Everything that you’ve been longing for – success, approval, comfort, control, or otherwise – can only be ultimately found in relation to him. And if you do happen to fail him…and we all do at some point. He won’t punish you. He forgives you instead.
“I have swept away your offenses like a cloud, your sins like the morning mist. Return to me, for I have redeemed you.” (Isaiah 44:22)