by Steven Gledhill for FREEdom from MEdom Project
Romancing the Stone is the worship of idols we have erected from our entitlement-driven obsessions that direct us in our worship of self (“extravagant respect or admiration for or devotion to an object of esteem” – Merriam-Webster). As you consider this truth throughout the article, pay attention to the words in capital letters that tend to be indicators of our idolatrous obsessions.
Toward the end of the twentieth century (1984 to be exact), Hollywood gave us an adventure movie called Romancing the Stone, starring Michael Douglas, Kathleen Turner, and Danny DeVito. The story is about Joan, a romance novelist, who travels to Columbia to search for her sister who’s been kidnapped by smugglers. She runs into Jack who rescues her from a rather tense circumstance. Together they stumble onto a whole bunch of marijuana and a treasure map. After inhaling, they begin their journey with a two-fold purpose. Jack is motivated by greed and Joan by desperation to find and save her sister. They both find what they are looking for and then the adventure ensues as they try to hold onto their treasure while being hunted.
The treasure is a huge emerald worth a fortune. Since Joan’s sister is tangled up in the mess with her captors, everyone involved in the story is about one thing; securing the stone. No one trusts anyone and everyone is willing to risk everything, including their very lives to get what they want; what they each believe they are entitled to.
It could be said that the emerald in the movie was so at the forefront of everyone’s attention that it became the focal point of all that mattered. Jack even dives into the sea to wrestle with a crocodile to obtain the stone. Jack isn’t seen from again until she shows up outside of Joan’s house with his big boat that he bought wearing alligator-skinned boots. What a happy ending to an entertaining movie.
The Bible has some things to say about how we in our selfishly ambitious pursuits are inclined to romancing the stones in our world. There are important things to say about this romance from a Scriptural perspective. The importance we place on the stones along our way becomes an obstacle to the lifestyle of humble obedience we have been called to in relationship with God. The stone can be so big and heavy that it becomes impossible to move. It is so thick that not even the voice of God can be heard through it. It moves in on us to the point that it is impenetrable and we cannot break through it.
I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you will be clean; I will cleanse you from all your impurities and from all your idols. I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit in you and move you to follow my decrees and be careful to keep my laws. Ezekiel 36:25-27 (NIV)
There is in my opinion a direct parallel between this landmark passage in Ezekiel and Isaiah 57. Both Scriptures deal with the specific matter of the human heart being penetrated and contaminated with impurity delivered in the form of idolatry. So far, all of the commentary I have found on the phrases “heart of stone” and “heart of flesh” appear to center on the theme of God putting in us a new spirit that penetrates a hardened stoney heart cleansing us from impurity and made sensitive to the touch of God. I love this and will discuss it further.
For now, I would like to ask you to consider another take on the expression “heart of stone” from the word God gave to Isaiah. Let’s do some Bible study.
You worship your idols with great passion
beneath the oaks and under every green tree.
You sacrifice your children down in the valleys,
among the jagged rocks in the cliffs.
Your gods are the smooth stones in the valleys.
You worship them with liquid offerings and grain offerings.
They, not I, are your inheritance.
Do you think all this makes me happy? Isaiah 57:5-6 (NLT)
These smooth stones Isaiah is talking about became cherished possessions. Apparently these people that God is talking about were with their children among the jagged rocks to get to these stones. It sounds to me like the area was quite dangerous and children slipped through and/or fell on these rocks and suffered fatal injuries while making their way down the mountain side. Maybe they used the children to fit into tight crevasses to reach for the smoothest, most colorful stones; stones that would be erected in service to their idols. Or worse, the adults may have literally sacrificed their children to their gods from under the jagged rocks along the floor of the valley as worthy sacrifice to their gods. Either way, these smooth stones were of high enough value that people, perhaps even families, were willing to sacrifice the lives of their kids for the sake of gratifying their obsessions.
Is this so different than the risks we assume with our families in the selfishly ambitious pursuit of our obsessions at the expense of the well being of those we love most? It is easy to say this about obvious chemical addictions and criminal behavior – that drug addiction and criminal lifestyles are valued over marriage and family, and sacrificing the children is the probable consequence. It is still easier to say this about parents who have adulterous relationships at the expense of the well-being of their families. Is it just as easy to say this about parents that do not seem to get along because of the behavioral and cognitive forms of idolatry and self-worship? Is not the well-being of children and family life not in peril when control issues and power struggles, resentments, laziness, lust, and jealousy are operating like predators seeking to devour the relationships of those who once shared authentic love for one another?
You have committed adultery on every high mountain.
There you have worshiped idols and have been unfaithful to me.
You have put pagan symbols on your doorposts and behind your doors.
You have left me and climbed into bed with these detestable gods.
You have committed yourselves to them.
You love to look at their naked bodies. Isaiah 57:7-8 (NLT)
What are the idols you worship in your daily experience?
What are the pagan symbols in your home?
Now it gets personal. So I will be honest about my struggle with this precept for obedience unto God in my own life. TIME is an idol for me but not in the way you might think. If you are thinking the matter of time in your life you might obsess with how busy you are and that there never seems to be enough time. For me, I am selfish with my time. Because it’s mine! It is my time. I so enjoy leisure time. Not because I am so active. I am a couch potato when I am not working or writing. I enjoy watching sports, good movies, news talk on television, and King of Queens reruns.
Imagine if I redeemed that time really pressing in to the presence of the Lord talking to God. He is there with me. He loves me so much and absolutely enjoys chatting with me. His Spirit within me groans for fellowship as I steady my eyes at a plate of glass waiting for the next laugh line, the payoff at the conclusion of a good movie, or falling asleep to late night news talk on cable. It’s no better than the teenager that comes into the room with mom and dad, and when they ask how he or she is doing there is not a word of response; not even a glancing look. Perhaps an idol in my experience is LAZINESS. Something to think about when considering what might be idolatry in your life as well.
I so much want to be entertained. I suppose the “need” for ENTERTAINMENT is something I worship in my life. It definitely hinders my prayer life. It is another smooth stone on the alter I have built to a false god called ME. Perhaps my television is the pagan symbol of my idolatry regarding how I spend my time, if not on its own an idol in my life. For some of you clocks may be pagan symbols of your anxious obsession with effectively managing your time. Is your busy schedule costing you valuable opportunities with your spouse and children? Are you addicted to your work and your professional existence? Is your career an idol or at least a reflection your worship of time?
Perhaps idolizing time is the spawn of an even greater god: CONTROL. Why are there problems with patience that create anxiety fueling what can amount to considerable stress? Isn’t the lack of or absence of control at the center of anxiety and stress, clinically proven to destroy a person’s health and take lives? The need for control is again an entitlement problem at the hand of unmet expectation. When we do not possess what we want and need and believe we deserve we are not in control. The loss of control can trend toward preoccupation and obsession with whatever it takes to get it back. When exhaustive attempts are futile, as they typically are, to regain and resume control, the need for a remedy arises to the forefront of the daily experience. When the anxiety and stress – FEAR – of lost control hits the boiling point, and the acquired remedy (pagan symbols of idolatrous worship) is insufficient due to its impermanence, a vicious cycle of depression and despair may take over. The effects are paralyzing. One can feel lost in the world.
Why drugs? (And oh by the way, alcohol and nicotine are drugs… and food and sex can have the effects of drugs.) Drugs alter brain chemistry and on the surface can be an attractive remedy for anxiety and pain. The need for an escape route into various forms of gratification provide relief for a minute but then it’s right back into anxiety and pain.
Another idol in my life has been the problem of LUST. Not only lust of the eyes, but lust for things I want and COVET. While it is easy to rationalize that lust is human nature, it is a problem that can destroy lives, marriages, and families. AMBITION and GREED are bi-products of lust and JEALOUSY. Selfish ENTITLEMENT is born out of a sin nature. It drives our worship of self, which is at the root of this thing I refer to as MEdom… my addiction to me.
Have you ever thought of RESENTMENT as an idol in your human experience? Resentment is the result of unresolved anger. Anger is a human emotion that by itself is not sin. Jesus became angry at the merchants in the temple cheating gentiles and roared through the temple with a whip cutting into their potential profits as he stripped the wheelers and dealers of their merchandise and currency.
Scripture implores us,
“Don’t sin by letting anger control you. Don’t let the sun go down while you are still angry, for anger gives a foothold to the devil.” (Ephesians 4:26-27 NLT)
What it is to be controlled by anger is to let it seep into our deeper thoughts and emotions to the point that we are resentful and bitter. Bitter resentment is a killer to relationships and one’s own esteem and self-respect. Being controlled by anger is idolatry, just as being controlled by lust, jealousy, greedy ambition, control, and fear is to be enslaved under the spell of these idols. It most definitely opens the door to demonic attack from oppressive spirits, thus Paul wrote that being controlled by anger – resentment – gives our demonic enemy a foothold. It means that in addition to our selfish prideful flesh, the devil is allowed to dig in and fuel our obsessions with resentments.
One of two things follows resentment: forgiveness or some kind of VENGEANCE, revenge being another idolatrous behavior. Following forgiveness comes healing; following vengeance comes one of two things: regret or a bitter dissatisfaction that revenge was once again only temporary gratification before lingering bitterness prevails.
Have you ever considered SHAME as an idol to be worshipped?
Are there things that have happened to you that, even though you were an innocent victim, have so profoundly impacted how you see yourself that you feel ugly inside and cannot seem to let it go. It hurts so much. Do the memories of a wounded past have so much power that they own you? Has your spiritual enemy persuaded you to believe the lie that your past somehow defines you?
The lie is that you are ugly and that you cannot love or be loved. You need to cry out to your Savior Jesus Christ for healing and deliverance from that kind of shame. To continue to hold on to it is to give it a life of its own, not allowing you to live the life of peace you are called to in relationship with Jesus (1 Corinthians 7:15). To continue to believe in the lies of the enemy is to exalt the memory and shame of your past experience – PAIN worship. It can be a false god in your life that is slowly killing you and an obstruction to relationship with God who gives life to the hurting and oppressed.
Then there is the shame of what you have done that you have come to believe is unforgivable. Working in a prison, treating men who are guilty of despicable acts has been a difficult challenge for me. Most of these men are at a place where they have hit bottom. They are broken and contrite, and very ashamed. Most of the men who are in a sincere relationship with God did not find God in prison. They returned to God in prison. These men wrestle with the shame of their past and it is deep in substance. Horrible things were done to them as children and they have done horrible things. Most are both victims and villains. This is a cold dark reality. Their past is still an open wound. It may be beginning to heal, but like a scab that is ripped off every time something rubs up against it, causes the sins of the past to bleed all over them again.
The truth is that the blood of Jesus covers the shame of past sin and regret. That is why Apostle Paul made the point of writing that,
“The kind of sorrow God wants us to experience leads us away from sin and results in salvation. There’s no regret for that kind of sorrow. But worldly sorrow, which lacks repentance, results in spiritual death.” (2 Corinthians 7:10 NLT)
The Apostle John wrote that,
Even if we feel guilty, God is greater than our feelings, and he knows everything.” (1 John 3:20 NLT)
It is not lost on our loving Father God to have written for us through these apostles that we will struggle with unforgiveness – self-condemnation. It is crucial to a healthy Christ-centered life that you do not give honor to the shame of your past. Instead of idolizing the thing that is causing you pain, let it go into the hands of your redeemer.
To allow God to heal your wounds (“by His stripes we are healed”) will mean that the scabs that could so easily get ripped open and bleed are now scars. Scars are healed wounds that, while the mark serves as a reminder of your past, no longer have power and will no longer own you. Scars are evidence that you have been set free from your past to live the life of peace you have been destined for in relationship with Christ.
Whether as an attempt to regain control, to protect ourselves from feeling or experiencing fear, or to minimize or maximize anything of consequence, LYING is a key element of idol worship. Lying is critical in the pursuit of gratification and relief. Lying can be chronic and compulsive; even pathological, meaning that the liar is sick. Compulsive pathological liars cannot help themselves. From lying comes cheating, deception (truth-bending), and stealing. Lying will destroy people and families and can cause severe, irreparable damage. Lying is definitely a “drug” of choice to attempt to escape something painful. Lying is a drug with a brief shelf life. Once the lie is exposed the pain increases into something even more severe than it likely would have been had the lie not occurred. Unless of course, more lying helps to hold off the crash and burn. But like running out of the drug, when the lying runs out, the crash and burn is a certainty.
To not experience the healing power of God setting you free from the past is to live in fear. Remember that FEAR is itself an idol to be worshipped. The pagan symbols of the false god that is fear take on forms of every kind. F.E.A.R., I have written about before, is Failed Expectations Affecting (or Altering) Reality. The reality for us set free in relationship with God is a life of peace and joy, even with life’s challenges and disappointments. Reality for even those in relationship with God blinded by the fear god is obsession with temporary fixes and remedies that are ultimately destructive and depressing. The fear god deceives our will to fall into a love relationship with the darkness and all that resides there. When gripped by the fear god, we do not sleep. No matter how weary we become, we find the will and the strength to continue the search for a better life. Unfortunately, once we have veered off the road into something wrong our travels take us deeper into darkness.
You sent your ambassadors far away; you descended to the very realm of the dead!
You wearied yourself by such going about, but you would not say, ‘It is hopeless.’
You found renewal of your strength, and so you did not faint. Isaiah 57:9-10 (NIV)
You have traveled far, even into the world of the dead, to find new gods to love.
You grew weary in your search, but you never gave up. Desire gave you renewed strength,
and you did not grow weary. Isaiah 57:9-10 (NLT)
Isaiah now is writing about the futility of addictive obsessions that sink us into deep dark places. Traveling far into the world of the dead is deviance into a hedonistic carnal lifestyle in search of new gods, willing to sacrifice everything and everyone in the addict’s hopeless attempt to end, or at least, ease the suffering.
King David wrote about his addiction nightmare:
“My loved ones and friends stay away, fearing my disease. Even my own family stands at a distance.” (Psalm 38:11)
The need and desire for remedy is so intense that even while fatigued and weary, the search for the next high – the next fix – is strengthened.
Do you understand what God is saying here through his prophet Isaiah? What does it mean, “Into the world of the dead” for you and me, today? For us I believe this passage could refer to anything we surrender our will to that can harm and destroy us. Yet, even when down and out in the midst of pain and suffering, weary from the insanity of addiction, desperation for escape and relief, or perhaps some kind of internal validation about our very existence, there is the renewed energy to do whatever it takes to find what we’re looking for, to get what we believe we need and deserve, even though it is killing us.
“Are you afraid of these idols? Do they terrify you?
Is that why you have lied to me and forgotten me and my words?
Now I will expose your so-called good deeds. None of them will help you.
Let’s see if your idols can save you when you cry to them for help.
Why, a puff of wind can knock them down! If you just breathe on them, they fall over!
But whoever trusts in me will inherit the land and possess my holy mountain.” Isaiah 57:11-13 (NLT)
We can become so dependent on our “drugs” of choice that we lose our way. God is talking to His chosen people. At that time the chosen people of God were the Jews in and around Israel. Today, the chosen people of God include gentiles, so the same truths apply to us. I previously described several idols (gods) of the flesh (the words in italicized capital letters) that operate in our daily experience like a vacuum, sucking us in to the point that we can’t see straight. We can be so absorbed by RESENTMENT that it’s laced into every thought we have. LUST and selfish AMBITION can and will govern our lives as we bow down and worship these gods. We can be so wrapped up into things we cannot CONTROL, particularly when it comes to our precious TIME , that interaction with family and friends and even with God suffers to the point that the relationships die.
We are afraid to let go and get out of our own way. We hold on to what we believe we need and call on our gods (you hate that I call them that, don’t you) for help and strength only to be disappointed time and time again. And sadly, and too often tragically, when our idols fail us, the result is destruction and doom and even death. God is saying that the stature of these false gods that we have come to rely on are so weakly feeble and fragile that it does not take all that much to send things crashing down into utter ruin.
Consumed by FEAR though we commit to our quest for the smooth stones that has replaced our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, the Stone that the builder rejected (1 Peter 2:7). So long as we are romancing these idols, these false gods, in our lives we interrupt the promised blessing of abundant life of transcendent peace and unspeakable joy.
Thank God, He has not given up on us!
And it will be said: “Build up, build up, prepare the road! Remove the obstacles out of the way of my people.” For this is what the high and exalted One says— he who lives forever, whose name is holy: “I live in a high and holy place, but also with the one who is contrite and lowly in spirit, to revive the spirit of the lowly and to revive the heart of the contrite. Isaiah 57:14-15 (NIV)
God says, “Rebuild the road! Clear away the rocks and stones so my people can return from captivity.” The high and lofty one who lives in eternity, the Holy One, says this: “I live in the high and holy place with those whose spirits are contrite and humble. I restore the crushed spirit of the humble and revive the courage of those with repentant hearts. Isaiah 57:14-15 (NLT)
Here we go into one of the great promises of salvation. The word ‘salvation’ is our evangelical word for redemption but it is also a word for recovery and restoration. God is proclaiming loudly that He is preparing the way to rebuild the road. This is a prophecy of the coming Messiah who through His sacrifice removes the obstacles that are between God and His people. It is through relationship with Jesus Christ that we can live in fellowship with God in eternity in that high and holy place set apart from the evil that has fostered an attitude of worship unto false gods beginning with the god of SELF. I am the chief obstacle in the way of relationship with God. Jesus has brought into my will and my life the Spirit of God desiring to live within me and through me into new life.
This is what grace is all about. We cheated on God in the past; will continue to cheat on God in the future as we are inclined to do as long as we have a sin nature of entitlement. God is faithful and just to forgive us so long as we are honest about it (1 John 1:9) and commit our intention to live (in relationship with Christ) a life set apart from our idolatrous and adulterous ways. That’s like one spouse telling the other about her adulterous lifestyle of marital infidelity and being told she is forgiven; and so long as she is intentioned in her heart to be faithful, her future mistakes and affairs are forgiven as well. And according to 1 John 3:20, even when she struggles from a place of guilt with accepting that she is forgiven, and perhaps acts out even more as an adulterer, the her husband insures that she is forgiven. How did the husband insure that his bride is forgiven? He did so through the sacrifice of his only son.
Through Isaiah, God declared that our worship of false gods is in fact adultery. There is no way to sugarcoat this fact. Our worship of all of these obstacles is adultery. And even though we are forgiven, whenever we relapse into having yet another affair with an idol of the flesh, fellowship suffers and blessing is held at bay; not by God so much (even though God can certainly choose to withhold blessing) but by us since our hands are full with our mess and not available to receive what God so freely gives.
What God wants is a humble and contrite heart. This means that I am ashamed of my adulterous behavior. This means I am willing to accept responsibility for the romancing the smooth stones found in the valley of my sin. This means I have remorse and regret concerning my guilt. This means I admit I am powerless when left to my own devices to try and control what I really cannot control, starting with my thoughts, feelings, and imagination. This means that what I want is to be in active fellowship with my Redeemer Jesus Christ; that I want to experience the best of the new life that He wants and has for me. Jesus is the bridge, the rope, the lifeline to God. I cannot buy my stairway to heaven as the song suggests. It is only through right relationship with God that I have access to Him for all eternity. Praise God!
He created you and me for relationship with Him to have sweet communion together. God is emotional and created us in His image to be emotional creatures. It is said in Scripture that God is jealous for us. John the revelator writes that Jesus stands at the door knocking, wanting desperately to be let in. Reading Isaiah here, I get the impression that it might not be just a tapping on the door of my life. I get the sense He is pounding on the door and my opening the door for Him is because my life depends on it. He is pounding on the door like a fireman desperate to get to someone who just might burn to death the way things are going.
I will not accuse them forever, nor will I always be angry, for then they would faint away because of me—the very people I have created. I was enraged by their sinful greed; I punished them, and hid my face in anger, yet they kept on in their willful ways. Isaiah 57:16-17 (NIV)
I have seen what they do, but I will heal them anyway! I will lead them. I will comfort those who mourn, bringing words of praise to their lips. May they have abundant peace, both near and far,” says the Lord, who heals them. Isaiah 57: 18-19 (NLT)
It is clear from this passage that God is angry with me when I will not let Him in, preferring to serve the gods of lust and greed, feeling entitled to what I deserve outside of fellowship with the giver of all good gifts. Like a parent being angry with a willful child my Heavenly Father is angry with me when I make a mess. He punishes me in love, at least allowing me to reap the consequences of my disobedience.
And like a loving father, He does not leave me there to internalize my guilt to the point that out of that guilt I am somehow defined by it. He comes to me and asks to come in so that He can interact with me, forgive me and prove to me how much He loves me. He loves me so much He died for me. And on the third day after experiencing all of the worst of dying and condemnation, the soul and spirit of Jesus returned into new life. Even the tomb was alive; no death to be found. Your sin and mine had been extinguished for all of eternity. One thing remained for new life to be experienced to the full. The stone was the final obstacle. The stone that buried Jesus was the last of the smooth stones to be dealt with. Our romance with evil was conquered once and for all. The stone was rolled away forever. Jesus arose and left the tomb as if our lives depended on it.
When you continue romancing the smooth stones, the idols, the false gods of the flesh, it’s as though you have chosen to live in the tomb of your sin… self-centered entitlement to indulge in carnal-minded nonsense. I warn you, today. Leave the tomb. The stone has been rolled away. You are free to go. Do not believe the lies about entitlement that will some day entomb you for eternity if in the end you reject Jesus Christ. That is a willful decision. No one to BLAME (another false god of the flesh). There will be a day when the stone will again seal the tomb. To live for eternity entombed is to die for eternity in utter darkness. Choose life, today! Do not hesitate. Be full of the best of new life in the family of Almighty God.
Today I have given you the choice between life and death, between blessings and curses (consequences). Now I call on heaven and earth to witness the choice you make. Oh, that you would choose life. Deuteronomy 30:19
In the family of God we are the church, the bride of Jesus Christ. The premise of marriage is set on the marriage relationship between Christ and His bride. It is a romance that Jesus has with His bride. His is jealous for my attention and affection. In this marriage there is no room for other gods. He wants all of me. He desires that I have joy so amazing I cannot describe it… joy unspeakable. Peace that I can understand is reasonable peace of mind. He desires that I experience peace that transcends my comprehension.
Yes, you who trust him recognize the honor God has given him. But for those who reject him, “The stone that the builders rejected has now become the cornerstone.” 1 Peter 2:7 (NLT)
The cornerstone is the foundational piece that everything rests on. Because the world has rejected Jesus, when the winds of change in the land come, any house not built on Jesus will collapse; every single one of them. The Bible says that anyone whose house is built on the Rock that is Jesus Christ is a living stone, trusting Jesus for salvation and blessing.
You are coming to Christ, who is the living cornerstone of God’s temple. He was rejected by people, but he was chosen by God for great honor. And you are living stones that God is building into his spiritual temple. What’s more, you are his holy priests. Through the mediation of Jesus Christ, you offer spiritual sacrifices that please God. As the Scriptures say,
“I am placing a cornerstone in Jerusalem, chosen for great honor, and anyone who trusts in him will never be disgraced.” 1 Peter 2:5-6 (NLT)
When the stone at the center of my worship is another god, my relationship with Christ suffers. Unless I repent and give up my adulterous affair with what is ultimately my irrational belief about what I deserve, I can suffer for eternity. Apostle James writes in the first chapter of his book that as long as my loyalty is divided between my marriage (my relationship with Christ) and my affair (my relationship with these idols of the flesh), I am double-minded and unstable in all that I do, stuck in a core belief of entitlement. I am tossed around between these two relationships, subject to human reasoning, and therefore full of doubt about the immeasurable work God can do in my life (see Ephesians 3:20). In my doubt I should not expect to receive anything since my cognitive and spiritual confusion will spoil the blessing and sabotage my hope for God’s best in my life (James 1:5-8).
Jesus referred to Himself as the Rock. When my worship is as a bride in romance with the bridegroom, romancing the Rock, that is when it all work together for me because what I do in my daily experience is an expression of my love for Jesus, and what He does from within me and through me is a reflection of His compassionate merciful love for me.
It is in the end a matter of life and death.
“But those who still reject me are like the restless sea, which is never still but continually churns up mud and dirt. There is no peace for the wicked,” says my God. Isaiah 57:20-21 (NLT)