American Idol(s)

I recently came across a very contemporary sermon preached by the late D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones, pastor of London’s Westminster Chapel until 1968. Lloyd-Jones died 35 years ago; the sermon I read is from a series on Isaiah 40 entitled The All-Sufficient God that he preached in 1954.

While all the sermons in the series are needful today, a section in “The Answer to Unbelief,” based on Isaiah 40:18-24, struck me as particularly applicable in this election year. The text confronts Israel with the rampant idolatry that has marginalized the Lord, actually displacing Him from everyday life. Lloyd-Jones applies that to the idols of England in his day, and I found his applications very fitting for our American idols, especially in one area. Allow me an extended quotation.

They say they cannot believe in God—but they can believe in idols!

And the world is full of this kind of thing. People tell us that they are too able and too intelligent to believe in God. But look at what they do believe in. Look at the modern idols. People say they are far too intelligent to believe in this gospel and to accept it and submit to it. But look at the things in which men and women do place their trust. Look at the gods that the world makes for itself, sometimes just sheer wealth, sometimes position and status, sometimes dress, mere clothing. In their desire to be highly thought of by the so-called great in the land, people idolize and copy them. There is no limit to the variety of idols that men and women make and are prepared to give themselves to. They impoverish themselves, as Isaiah here describes. They will give their time, their enthusiasm, their energy, and their money. There are people who are in constant financial trouble, and even become bankrupt, because they are trying to live up to a social level that is beyond them. That is an exact repetition of what these people did in ancient times with their idols of gold. It is idolatry; it is the worship of a way of life….

Then there are others who worship thought and learning. There are people who undoubtedly worship science. They talk about it as if it were some kind of deity. They have turned something that is abstract into something concrete. “This is what science says,” they say. Of course, there is no such thing. They mean that certain scientists say this or that. But they have made science into a god, and bow before this tremendous thing that is there over us and over the whole life of humanity in the world…. Modern men and women have turned their backs on God. They cannot believe the gospel message, and they believe instead that the advance of knowledge and learning will save the world and put everything right and straight. Political action, too! All these are modern idols, the modern gods….

Then there is the modern attitude to “the princes” and “the judges of the earth” (v. 23). Increasingly, it seems to me, there is a belief in human leaders—it is the idea of the superman, the dictator…. Perhaps one of the greatest dangers still confronting the modern world is this tendency of people to listen in a sheep-like manner to any leader and to give unquestioning support.

Work it out for yourselves. There are many, many manifestations of this desire to turn fellow human beings, both men and women, into gods, to work them up in our imaginations and idealize them. We put qualities in them that are not really there…. We are prepared to trust these people absolutely. We put a kind of aura around them and tend to say they are ultimately infallible…. Though the average man or woman does not believe in God and in the Christian faith, people have unbounded faith in the wisdom of these great leaders and thinkers who are going to solve all the problems of life and take us into some kind of paradise. They will therefore submit to them and allow them to rule and to govern and to have almost a totalitarian control. Is that not the position? [From The All-Sufficient God, Carlisle, PA: The Banner of Truth Trust, 2005, pp. 116-118. Emphasis mine.]

Indeed, isn’t it? Our American idols come in quite a variety—only one of which had a TV show to exalt him. What struck me most in this section of his sermon was Lloyd-Jones’s recognition of the tendency to idolize political leaders (or would-be leaders!). Am I the only one who’s observed the exalting of Presidential Candidate _____ as the man/woman who can “save America”? Have you noticed Who is missing from the discussion?

That’s American idolatry, and Lloyd-Jones pegged us 62 years ago.