Perhaps the most challenging idol in our hearts, and this is true for almost all of us, is our sense of entitlement.
Entitlement has gotten a bit of a heavy connotation in our culture, as we often use it to talk about programs that provide benefits to those who do not receive them from working - things like food stamps, government health insurance, unemployment, and the like. We call these "entitlement" programs. But that's not what we're talking about when we talk about the problem of entitlement in the heart.
Entitlement in the heart is the sense that we somehow deserve something, that we have earned it. Particularly, when we talk about idols and our worship of God, that God owes us something.
For most of us, this arises out of a sense of our own 'goodness.' We hold a measuring stick up against our lives and determine that we are 'good' persons. We give of our time and resources, we don't curse, we help others, we read our Bible, we go to church, we pray faithfully. We can go on and on listing the things that we are certain make us good. And if we are good, and particularly if we are good in the ways that God desires for us to be good, then He owes us the good life. We have earned it. We deserve it.
This is why it is so devastating for us when life doesn't go our way, when it is harder or less pleasant than we think it ought to be. When we face trials and troubles. Something in our entitled hearts cries out, but wait! I am good. Because we have come to believe that it is our goodness, not His, that determines the course of our lives.
What makes this so troubling is that what has happened in this scenario is that our own entitlement, that thing that we have come to worship, has actually set us up to worship the Lord Himself as an idol.
That's how idol worship has worked for every peoples since the beginning of time - if they are faithful, if they are good, if they do the things that their idol desires of them and offer pleasing sacrifices and please the god of their affections, then their god owes them whatever it is they are seeking, whether it be healing or fertility or a bountiful harvest or whatever. It's why the prophets of Baal did everything they could think of, even down to cutting themselves and pouring out their own blood at his altar, to try to get him to show himself on Mount Carmel; Baal's presence and power were directly connected to their living worship.
So when we get this notion that it is our goodness that makes God faithful, we are doing nothing more than reducing Him to the same kind of idol that the world has always worshiped. No wonder, then, that in times like these, He is less likely to answer us in the ways that we expect. No wonder He continues to stand up against our sense of entitlement and declare that this is not the way that He works. No wonder we're so continually frustrated.
We have taken our worship and turned it to not one, but two idols, and both will inevitably fail us.
(That is not the say that the Lord fails us. Rather, it is only to say that we are failed by our false ideas of Him when we do not worship the true Living God but only our image of Him.)
As we talked about yesterday, this is difficult because it seems to be rooted in a nugget of truth. God is good. He does love us. He does want good for us. He does care what we are doing with our lives and the ways that we are choosing to live. We do want to be good persons. We do want to live good lives. All of these things are good. It is only when it becomes transactional, rather than intimately relational, that it is no longer good. It is when it becomes tit-for-tat and an expectation based out of our own goodness rather than His that it's troublesome.
And then, my friends, it is most troublesome. For the idol of our own goodness sets us for us an idol of our faithful God, and before we know it, we have spent our lives worshiping a god made in our own image, rather than one who created us in His. And that's why this particular idol in our hearts is so devastating.
Because it takes us so, so far away from where we think we're going, all the while telling us that we're getting there.
Beware, then, your sense of your own goodness. And focus instead on His.