Have You Become What You Worship? An Interview with G.K. Beale
In the new issue of Credo Magazine, Matthew Barrett interviewed G.K. Beale about the nature of idolatry and why it is so ironic and destructive. Greg Beale (PhD, Cambridge) holds the J. Gresham Machen Chair of New Testament and is professor of New Testament and biblical theology at Westminster Theological Seminary. He is the author of many books, including A New Testament Biblical Theology, Book of Revelation (New International Greek Text Commentary), Revelation: A Shorter Commentary, and We Become What We Worship. The following is an excerpt from the interview.
If idols are spiritually lifeless, should we really be surprised that we too become spiritually dead when we turn to idols rather than the one, true, and living God?
It is natural and not surprising that if one commits oneself to the world or something in the world, one will become like the world or whatever in the world to which one is committed. And, since the world or objects in the world lack God’s Spirit, then the idolater will become as lifeless and as inanimate as the world or objects in the world.
Isaiah 6:9-10 says that God punished Israel by making them like their lifeless idols: since the idols had no true eyes to seen or ears to hear, so Israel reflects the idols by not having eyes to see nor ears to hear. This led to Israel’s destruction and judgment of exile. For a further example, when Israel sinned by worshiping the golden calf, Moses’ narration about that event was that they had become stiff-necked, unbound, wandered from the way, and they needed to be re-gathered and led again at the gate. That is the language of rebellious cattle needing to be regathered again. Moses is mocking them saying, “Israel, you have become as spiritually lifeless and inanimate as that golden calf that you have been worshiping.” This led to the destruction and judgment of the first generation of Israelites in the wilderness.
How do warnings against idolatry in scripture remind us that there is a fundamental difference between the Creator and the creature? Is idolatry ultimately about our conception of who God is and who he is not?
God demands that people give him glory. We are not to give ourselves glory, but some people do glorify themselves (which is worshipping oneself and is self-idolatry). We are not to give anything else in the creation glory but only the Creator. God is set apart from the rest of creation in that he is the only being worthy of and deserving glory.
Idolatry ultimately is about our conception of who God is. If people have a significantly wrong conception of who God is, then they commit themselves to a false and distorted conception of God and thus a false God. This becomes tantamount to idolatry. This is why God’s people must know his word. Only by knowing God’s word and thinking God’s thoughts after him will they have a right conception of who he is and, thus, worship the true God.