The Idol of What Is To Come

Today is my oldest son’s 5th birthday.  For the past few months he has incessantly been asking me when he gets to turn 5.  In his mind nothing is better or cooler than being 5.  And so today was the day of consummation.  He woke up at an ungodly hour and ran into my room screaming…

“Am I five?  Am I five?!”

“You’re five!”

“Really?”

“Really.”

“Right now I’m five???”

“Right now you’re five!”

“Hooray!!!”

(Five minutes later)

“Daddy?”

“Yes.”

“When will I be six?”

This expresses so well a hidden idol we all struggle with.

An idol is anything that replaces God as our ultimate love.  It is the thing we mistakenly look toward for happiness, significance, identity, joy, fulfillment, and so forth.  God is the source of all these things, but the fruit of the sinful nature is that we look elsewhere to find what God alone can provide.  Some common idols to our culture are things like sex, money, power, possessions, addictive substances, work, family, and the list goes on and on.

Let me add to the list a subtle idolatry that often goes unnoticed but is wreaking havoc on so many lives—the idol of what is to come.

Mankind has always struggled with “the grass is always greener on the other side” mentality, but I think this has become a besetting problem in our culture.  Things like a rapidly changing society, limitless opportunities, our unquenchable consumerism, our demand for instant gratification, our addiction to novelty, and so many other cultural trends have come together to make us utterly discontent and enthralled by the prospects of what is to come.  To put it bluntly, we are living in bondage to the future, idolizing what is forthcoming.  I call it the “if only” syndrome.

If only I can get my drivers license, if only I can get to college, if only I can start my career, if only I can find a spouse, if only I can have kids, if only I can get through the baby stage of parenting, If only I can get the children out of the house, if only I can get to the top of my profession, if only I can get to retirement, if only I can be a grandparent, and then you’re dead.

And your whole life was spent with your heart fixated upon what is to come, wrongly convinced that life will be found in the next stage of life.

What we desperately need to see is that the next phase of life is like every other idol, an empty promise that will never fully deliver.  Our idols are cruel lovers.  They promise to be the end of our most fundamental longings as human beings, and though they may provoke a moment of hope that we have found our fulfillment, in the end they let us down and leave us broken, empty, and even more desperate.  And so it is with the next phase of life.  Often times we don’t ever get what we want from the future, but even if we do, we inevitably discover that the reality falls painful short of the dream.

This is the brutal cycle of idolatry, and the only hope of breaking the cycle is to turn to the only One who truly is the chief end of mankind.  God, and God alone, can bear the weight of your hopes and longings.  What you have discovered in the past will prove true every time in the future; the next phase will never be what you want it to be.  It’s simply not the answer.  God is the answer.  This conviction is what gives way to true contentment.  Contentment comes when you want no more, and wanting no more comes when God is what you want.

Ironically when we come to this realization and don’t expect the circumstances of life to do what God alone can do, we are actually freed up to do what seems so impossible … enjoy life.  Right here, right now, in this chapter of your story, you can be happy.  But you’re happy not because life has delivered all your desires; you’re happy because God is all you desire, and you have God.  No matter the circumstances, no matter what tomorrow has in store, God will never leave you nor forsake you, and so you will always have what you long for, today, tomorrow, and forevermore.

Kylie Rennekamp