When Heritage Becomes a Hindrance: Drawing the line between the outdoors and idolatry.

When my wife and I were engaged, I made ruthlessly clear to her that nothing was going to come between me and my “heritage”. I was a total ungodly jerk. After we married, God reminded me very quickly that I now had a new responsibility. It was called being a husband, and a few years later, a father. Suddenly hunting and fishing, while still important, were trumped by the fact that I had be constantly growing in my ability to deal with relationship situations, teach, encourage, and put my neck on the line when necessary to care for my family. It was all the things that go along with being a leader that put my passion for the outdoors back in its rightful place.

I cringe when I hear of my hunting and fishing peers sacrificing their role in their marriage and family for some sort of outdoor pursuit. I’m not saying that every single hunt needs to be laden with over-romanticized guilt. I’m saying that even if the outdoors is our livelihood, we still have a higher calling to be husbands, wives, parents, church members, friends, and so on. In all my years of hunting, the one thing that can make a seemingly innocent time in the outdoors feel completely sour, is knowing that I have either overlooked or simply ignored fulfilling some sort of responsibility to someone in my life just so I can go hunting.

When we purposely trade God’s will for the desires of our flesh, we are essentially worshipping an idol. Which one? Us. The human heart is what Tim Keller calls, “An idol factory.” How do we know? Look around you. We can even take some the most precious blessings that God gives us and turn them into little “g” gods. What’s the cost? It could be as small as simply disrupting your family’s routine in a way that will take several days to recover. It could be as large as undermining your spouse’s respect for you. Worst of all, it places the focus of worship in your life on you and your glory, rather than on God.  Pulling away the veil of the seemingly innocent “outdoors lifestyle” can reveal a person running from God rather than to him, and at the final analysis, uncover an idol.

When we are hunting, fishing, or even working, our relationship issues and responsibilities don’t go away. We simply remove ourselves from them temporarily, and give our focus and effort to hunting and fishing rather than the things that really need to be taken care of. What makes spending time in the outdoors so dangerous when we have idolized it, is that it seems incredibly innocent. We’re spending a therapeutic moment in God’s creation right? “Doesn’t that make up for the way I treated my spouse for the last week because I have been procrastinating about doing this month’s budget?”. No. It doesn’t.

So what is the solution? It’s not pretty. God doesn’t deal kindly with idolatry. Neither should we. In Judges 2:13-14 we see how God deals with unrepentant idolaters, even those that belong to him. “They (Israel) abandoned the Lord and served the Baals and the Asharoth. So the anger of the Lord was kindled against Israel and he gave them over to the plunderers, who plundered them. And He sold them into the hand of their surrounding enemies, so that they could no longer withstand their enemies.” In Romans 1:24-25 we see again how God feels about worshiping the creation rather than the one who formed it, “Therefore God gave them up in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, to the dishonoring of their bodies among themselves, because they exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshiped and served the creature rather than the creator, who is blessed forever! Amen.”

First, we have to be able to identify if our love for the outdoors is actually an idol. Does it consume our thoughts, our actions, our bank accounts? Is it seemingly demanding everything of us and giving little to nothing tangible in return? Are the sources of nourishment we should be giving the other things in our life cut off from them? Are our spouses, children, and others in our lives withering because of our neglect? If your answer is yes to these things, it’s time to move on to step two.  There has to be an action to dismantle that idol. First, prayer. Ask God to not only strengthen you to be able to even walk away from hunting or fishing all together, but to reveal the specific ways you are idolizing the outdoors. Remembering that the outdoors themselves are not the evil part of this, sometimes taking a walk outside can be one of the best things for you, but they are something you have used to build and have left you in this place. You have to tear that idol down. There’s no other way around it. Finally, the void the idol made after its destruction must be filled. Once an idol is destroyed, there is a hole that remains. Other idols will immediately work to pour into it if we are not diligent to fill it with what God wants.

Why is this important? The better question is, how important is your relationship with God? Don’t let your love for God’s creation become the object of your greatest desire. It will never give you in return what God gives you every day.

Suggested Reading

Counterfeit Gods by Tim Keller

The Weight of Glory by C.S. Lewis


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