In the dreary rainy week before our Vancouver urban plunge, we were introduced to a man named Nathan Reiger. He was a quirky and joyful soul weathered by a life immersed in the culture of inner city Winnipeg and East Hastings, Vancouver. He had a look about him that was street wise, equipped with a quick tongue and sharp mind, products of time spent on the streets. With his hands in his pockets he caught us off guard with his easy humor, and minutes later stunned us again with his raw stories of people he had walked with as he journeyed from Nepal to East Hastings, from the Himalayas to the Rockies.
He began by talking about the spiritual darkness he encountered in Nepal and India, which he suspected stemmed from the plethora of idol worship prominent in the culture and religion. He had grown up doubting the existence of demons and spiritual warfare, but after encountering uncanny coincidences and the power his prayer had over certain circumstances, he was convinced: idols and demons are real, and they have a hold on this world.
He introduced us to the age old idols in our culture: pleasure, power, and value. Idols of pleasure are the source of addiction and numbness, twisting the good things God has created for us to enjoy and showing us pleasure in contexts that are harmful to us. The pleasure they offer are in frequencies, quantities, or circumstances that are not what God intended, and thus make us resilient or numb to that pleasure over time. Idols of power create unhealthy hierarchies and power roles that render some powerless and others over-powerful. These idols push us to greed and helplessness, distorting the power that God gave us in Genesis 1. Idols of value also create hierarchies but operate on a currency of love based on comparison. These idols rate people based on a narrow vision of what is acceptable, beautiful, etc. and are fueled by a broken desire to be better than someone. They refuse to acknowledge value outside of their rating systems thus producing an extremely unstable conditional love.
These idols have one thing in common: they assume a role that only God is qualified to hold over people’s lives. Pleasure, power, and value are good things, but once we let them define us and judge us, we crumble. Everybody worships, and if we are not worshiping God, we are worshiping something else; this is incredibly dangerous. When we allow idols to define us, we must obsessively earn love, take power, and wring pleasure. We are exhausted, afraid, tormented, jealous, depressed, numb, confused, easily swayed, unable to see beauty in everything.
In an effort to expose these idols and their lies, Nathan created space for us to share our idols with the group. For many, it was the first time we had ever been able to diagnose or identify the idols at the source of chronic fears, worries, insecurities, and shame. As each idol was spoken out into the light, prayers went up to rebuke the power of these lies and truth was spoken into the individuals.
I sat in my chair, clenching my fists as my idols screamed in my ears. Your words will not carry weight. Nothing can fill you. Nothing can change this part of you. You are not worth their attention. All words I had heard before, words I had believed and cowered in front of for my whole life. Since I was young, I experienced loud voices and images in my head that I knew were not of me and not of God. They were always accusing, condemning, and ridiculing, filling up so much room in my head that I could hardly hear myself think. I often found myself screaming in an effort to try to get them to shut up. They caused nightmares, fears, insecurities, anxiety, and for a time I succumbed to self-harm in order to numb myself to the loudness. As I listened to Nathan however, I realized they were the voices of my idols of value telling me I had to do certain things or appear a certain way in order to be loved. They were demons that were constantly following me around and whispering to me because they knew I was bowing to these idols. They had me pinned down as I had no truth to replace their lies.
In a step of faith that day with Nathan, I spoke out these things and I experienced the sweetest freedom I have ever known. It crashed over me in fresh cool waves as my friends wept with me, hugged me, and prayed with me, the succulent joy of taking the leap and being caught in the arms of love. As they spoke truth to me, the idols and their systems crumbled. Since I brought these demons into the light, they have fled and I finally have some crisp open air in my mind to stretch my arms and sit with Jesus, listening to his opinion on things. Instead of loudness there is gentleness. In place of fear and nightmares are love and hope. When I look out I no longer see a hierarchy, but beauty, and I am finally seeing the world and myself through heaven’s eyes.