Imagine it. Imagine that the Father is eternally sending forth Himself in Word and Spirit. Imagine that He is a spreading goodness. Imagine that He is infinite plenitude rather than infinite need. Imagine He is a Fountain of outgoing love. What then?
Well, for one thing, let's ask ourselves, how should we correspond to God the Giver? Surely the most fundamental answer must be: by receiving. Or to put it another way, the work of God is this: to believe in the One He has sent. Or again, we might say that the righteous shall live by faith. Life in relationship with the Giver is a life of receiving.
But notice therefore that the first thing to which I'm called is not worship but faith. Of course I am called to worship, but it is the worship that is shaped by a prior commitment to receive the grace of God in Jesus Christ. We love because He first loved us.
Why do I labour this point?
I labour it, because it seems to me that another point is laboured beyond proper proportions. And that is the concept of idolatry.
I'm forever hearing that idolatry is the key to the Christian life. I need to identify my idols and turn from them, returning to the true God. The underlying assumption seems to be that false worship is the problem, true worship will be the solution.
There's a lot of diagnostic gain to be had in following this insight. My mind is a factory of idols. And this does betray and perpetuate my disordered desires. But we haven't yet diagnosed the underlying problem if we've only seen it as a problem of worship.
First of all I am a receiver. Therefore first of all I have failed to receive my life, my identity, my joy, my purpose from Christ.
Let's put this in the language of Jeremiah 2:13:
My people have committed two sins: They have forsaken me, the spring of living water, and have dug their own cisterns, broken cisterns that cannot hold water.
Sometimes people articulate the problem of idolatry the way the LORD does - as a double-sin. But often I hear idolatry defined merely as well-digging. i.e. they diagnose my problem simply as offering myself to the wrong thing. Yet before that sin there is a primary sin - forsaking the Fountain! And, pastorally speaking, we miss out hugely if we put the focus on the broken wells.
If my problem is diagnosed as "giving myself to career in an idolatrous fashion" then you might convince me that this is foolish, even that it's blasphemous. But my heart is not yet ready to trust Christ as the Fountain of Living Waters. Instead it will seem to me that God is a Taker who is even more demanding than my career. You might tell me that this is perfectly proper since God is the Ultimate Boss, but my thirsty soul won't buy it.
What's more, you may be participating in the greatest of idolatries - you may be painting God as, ultimately, Taker rather than Giver. And implicitly you may be pointing me to a false gospel. For if the problem is "offering myself to a false god", there's a distinct danger that the implied solution will be "offering myself to the real God." But that is not the gospel. The gospel is the real God offering Himself for me. And my real sin is refusing His thirst-slaking Spirit.
But if we fight the double-sin of idolatry it will mean not only facing the worship-denial of well-digging. Even more deeply, it will mean facing the thirst-denial of forsaking the Fountain.
I have deep longings which I crave. And that craving is not sinful (it might be, but it might not be). Actually my thirst-denial might be the really sinful thing. I might be trying to protect myself from how desperately I want life to work and how disappointed I am. If the Lord is a Fountain then denying my thirst might be an even bigger sin than digging a broken well, mightn't it? But I might not get in touch with that if I keep getting told that my problem is my desires.
Those who think of themselves as more conservative, theologically, can get uncomfortable when you talk about thirst and the sin of thirst-denial. Perhaps it sounds like a capitulation to felt needs. But if the Lord is a Fountain then how we are receiving the Living Waters (or not) is even more important than how we're replacing them.
Remember - the answer to Jeremiah 2 is not to start digging in the right place (as opposed to the wrong place). The answer is to face your thirst and stop digging!
The real way to fight idolatry is to return to the Source of Living Waters. "Repentance" - "metanoia" - "change of mind" (all one word), is looking again to the outstretched arms of Jesus and seeing that God is Giver. This is what revolutionizes hearts and minds - drinking from the Fountain.