The events in State College, PA early Sunday morning were like something seen back in the days when Iron Curtain domino's were falling one after another. Often the final act in the drama was a toppling of the venerable leader's statue. The unceremonious hauling away of the 900-pound bronze statue of legendary football coach Joe Paterno bore a striking resemblance to those scenes from 1989.
This morning the NCAA delivered a near fatal blow to the Penn State football program and Paterno's legacy. I have mixed feelings about all this. I haven't read The Freeh Report so will reserve judgment on the actions of Penn State and the NCAA except to say that the sordid saga has illuminated the idolatrous hold that sports has on segments of our society. As a lover of sports, especially college football, I have to ask myself: "If this had happened at the University of Florida would my reactions be different? Would my identification with the Gators skew my moral perspective?"
The other story in the headlines is the evil mass murder in Aurora, Colorado. Predictably, the aftermath has been dominated by dueling slogans on the issue of gun control. Those who favor further restrictions on gun ownership are quick to lead with this issue. On the other side those who favor the laxest possible restrictions on gun ownership want to change the subject and talk about the evil and/or insanity of the murderer. Both sides have their good points. Someone with murderous intent will find a way to carry it out even if guns aren't available, but when one can legally collect weapons, ammo and armor sufficient to hold off a regiment of soldiers equipped with Revolutionary War-era muskets the potential for mayhem is exponentially higher. I wonder if Aurora isn't also exposing an area of idolatry prevalent among us related to guns and gun ownership?
Tim Keller has defined the sin of idolatry this way: "Sin isn’t only doing bad things, it is more fundamentally making good things into ultimate things. Sin is building your life and meaning on anything, even a very good thing, more than on God. Whatever we build our life on will drive us and enslave us. Sin is primarily idolatry."
Keller also notes that idolatry has a corporate dimension. We see this in the history of Old Testament Israel and we can see it (if only dimly) in our own contemporary cultural contexts. "Indeed, each field of vocation and study has its reigning idols, as do political parties and ideologies. While secular societies have made an idol of human reason and human autonomy, other more traditional societies make idols of the family or racial purity."
What are the idols I am prone to find meaning in more than God? What are the idols we are prone to put in God's place? As we reflect on the weekend's heartbreaking headlines may we turn to God and his word for answers.
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