When studying biblical counseling, I found myself regularly looking at the differences between symptoms and causes. Sometimes a person would come and talk with me about a struggle they were having. But after we would talk for a while, we would discover that their struggle was a symptom of a greater, deeper struggle within. They were feeling concern about the fruit on the tree, but we were able to look down to find the problem at the roots.
In my reading of Jeremiah, I find a fruit and root problem relating to idolatry that surprises me a bit.
10 “And when you tell this people all these words, and they say to you, ‘Why has the Lord pronounced all this great evil against us? What is our iniquity? What is the sin that we have committed against the Lord our God?’ 11 then you shall say to them: ‘Because your fathers have forsaken me, declares the Lord, and have gone after other gods and have served and worshiped them, and have forsaken me and have not kept my law, 12 and because you have done worse than your fathers, for behold, every one of you follows his stubborn, evil will, refusing to listen to me. 13 Therefore I will hurl you out of this land into a land that neither you nor your fathers have known, and there you shall serve other gods day and night, for I will show you no favor.’
This is a passage where Jeremiah is communicating God’s judgment on his rebellious people. This is just before the captivity of the southern kingdom, their being carried off to Babylon. But notice the difference in the problems of the two generations in that section.
God says that the older generation is particularly guilty of idolatry. But the younger has done even worse. What could possibly be worse than being fool enough to bow to a statue and seek its aid against the command of God? The Lord says, “Every one of you follows his stubborn, evil will, refusing to listen to me.”
What then is worse? God tells us here that a generation that follows its own stubborn, evil will, a generation that refuses the word of God, that is worse even than the generation of forefathers who bowed to idols. Something about dad and grandpa bowing to a calf was less evil than Junior saying, “I don’t care what the Lord says, I’ll just do things my own way.”
Now, this is not to say that idolatry is not an evil deserving hell. God is clear that it is. But God says that there is something worse in the heart of mankind when we follow our own stubbornness, our own evil, our own rotten hearts and completely ignore the Lord.
Idolatry is a symptom of a deeper problem. Bowing to a statue is a symptom of the disease that came out in the next generation. The disease is trusting one’s own heart, ones own wisdom, one’s own ways above the Lord. And God says that self-trust, that following your own heart, is even more evil than being confused enough to make an offering to a figurine.
What in the world are we to do with this? We must recognize that our hearts are not trustworthy. Jeremiah tells us that in the next chapter.
9 The heart is deceitful above all things,
and desperately sick;
who can understand it?
10 “I the Lord search the heart
and test the mind,
to give every man according to his ways,
according to the fruit of his deeds.”
Our hearts will lead us away from the Lord. The infection of human sin and human self-reliance will turn us from the God who made us. That disease leads to spiritual death. We must be humble enough to stop following our hearts, stop listening to our urges, stop believing ourselves, and start relying on a solid source of truth. We need God’s word. We need God’s wisdom. And this is found in the clear and perfect revelation of God in Scripture.
The point is that even humanity bowing to false gods is a symptom of the folly and the rebellion bound up naturally in our sinful hearts. WE need spiritual heart transplants, a procedure only performed by the Lord at our salvation. And we need to trust the word of God over our desires, as our hearts will still mislead us if left unchecked.
How do you guard yourself from the danger of a rotten heart? First, come to Jesus if you have not yet done so. Second, regularly and prayerfully open the word of God and saturate your life with it. Third, be a part of a faithful, Bible-teaching, Bible-believing church where you can sit under the exposition of the word in classes and from the pulpit. And fourth, remember that your heart, even transformed, is not totally trustworthy. Always check your desires, not by spiritual experience, but by the clear and unchanging word of God.