One of the inescapable realities of human existence is we are all worshippers. We are always putting someone or something in the place of “ultimate” in our lives. And there’s no where where this is more easily seen in western culture than with celebrities.
We look at certain individuals, and we are in awe. We admire their talent; we enjoy the movies or TV shows or music in which they perform. We kind of wish we had their gifts (or at least their looks—remember “the Rachel”?). They promise to rescue us from the hell of our boredom with the ordinariness and obscurity of our own lives. We want to be known and important—and because that’s not going to happen for most of us, we are (somewhat) content to live vicariously through them. We read blogs or news sites that talk about new projects they’re involved with. But as time goes on, the boredom creeps back in. So the stories change from their work to their lives. And, voyeurism aside, we are enthralled, and our boredom is sent back into exile. But then it happens again: we start getting bored with the happy narrative. Soon, the tone of the reporting begins to change. We no longer have a happy picture of their lives:
- We’re confronted with their revolving door relationships.
- Then the ugly divorce.
- Then the debilitating drug habit.
Before long, this person we so admired becomes a punch line. We mock and jeer as our would-be savior from our boredom is crucified. And once the spear has entered their side, we go off in search of our next savior.
This, in a nutshell, is what the Bible calls idolatry. It’s to take someone or something that isn’t God and worship him, her or it, despite these idols always over promising and under delivering. They simply cannot do what we ask of them. In idolizing celebrities, in treating them as being “more” than human, we are making them less. We dehumanize them, turning them into puppets and pawns to make us happy (or at least, help us forget about what’s going on in our own lives). And while they have power over our affections, they don’t control over our destiny. That’s the greatest lure of idolatry. We want to be the masters of our domain, and there is no fate but what we make. Ultimately, in worshipping people and things, we are kind of worshipping ourselves. Idolatry is all about us being in control of our own destinies. About being our own gods. All of us—every single person on the face of the earth, every person who has ever lived—are prone to doing this. And there isn’t a single person who is excluded from it.
This is where the message that the Bible contains is so important. It tells us of the problem of humanity—we worship the wrong things and we fail to worship the only one worth worshipping. And it shows us the lengths to which this God who created everything has gone to fix the problem. It tells us of how we were lured away from true worship by the promise of being like God in a way that we were never meant to (and could never actually be). It tells of how this world became the mess that it is even to this very day, as humanity pursued its own desires. As it chased after its sad substitutes for the fulfillment that only comes through our relationship with our Creator. And it tells us of how God, from the very beginning, perfectly planned the events of history to bring humanity back into relationship with him. And this plan all centered on a man named Jesus—a man who was also, somehow, God.
Jesus came into the world, born as we are (well, sort of) and lived as we do. Except not. See, the Bible makes some extraordinary claims about Jesus. It tells us that from before time began, he existed. It calls him the Word who was with God and was God. It tells us that this same Jesus’ mother became pregnant through a miracle (hence the “sort of” with being born as we are). He became hungry and tired. He probably got sick from time to time. But one thing we have no record of is Jesus ever doing or thinking anything wrong. Ever. Not even once. He never lied, stole, or dishonored his parents. He never mocked people behind their backs. He never once behaved hypocritically. When he looked at people, he always gave them the appreciation and respect they were due—never thinking too highly or too lowly of anyone. He taught thousands of men, women and children, and showed extraordinary compassion to them. He frustrated the religious leaders of his day, because he kept calling them hypocrites and liars. Despite being a celebrity, with an entourage numbering in the tens of thousands, he wasn’t interested in status and making a name for himself. He was a servant of all. The writers of the Bible tell us he performed incredible miracles—including healing the sick and raising the dead! He said things like believing in him was the only way anyone could have a relationship with God. More than that, he even claimed to be God. And for this, he was arrested, beaten and brutally murdered. But even the grave wasn’t enough to stop him, for it’s said that he rose from death just a few short days later and appeared to hundreds of people, as many as 500 at once!
In all he did and all he taught, Jesus showed us was what a life of true worship looks like, one that is devoted to the God who created us. A life that consistently denies our selfish desires to put us at the center of the universe, and instead forces much needed perspective back into our lives. And that perspective really comes when we figure out what to do with Jesus, because he is the answer to our worship problem. And because he is the answer to our worship problem, we have to do something with him.
This is why so many people want to dismiss or discredit him. This is why some people pretend he never existed at all, and claim the story of Jesus was cobbled together from competing mythologies. This is why some try to say that the earliest writings of Christians didn’t include all of this Jesus is God talk; that this was something that was added later (what we might call the purple-monkey-dishwasher effect). This is why others still try to add him to a pantheon of little gods and goddesses, of spiritual teachers from whom they can pick and choose what they like and ignore the jagged bits. But I’ve got to be honest, having tried all of those, I can safely say they’re unsatisfying answers.
They don’t work.
There’s really only one honest answer to the question of what to do about Jesus, and that is to worship him as God. This is what Christians do, however much we falter: we worship Jesus because Jesus is the way God fixed our worship problem.