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Broken Cisterns That Can Hold No Water..

a cistern like the ones in the Bible..
A picturesque scene from the bottom of a cistern.

Today, I want to share a reflection inspired by one of the most sobering verses of the entire Bible. If you grew up in church, you are probably already familiar with it. The verse touches on the folly of idols. An idol, in this context, is an unhealthy habit, attitude, or affection that takes the rightful place of God in our hearts, or contradicts the truth of who God is. Idolatry, from a faith-based perspective, necessarily entails the forfeiture of material and spiritual blessings. A wise person can recognize when thoughts or actions do not serve their material interests in the short term; however, the consequences for believers when we entertain idols are of an even greater magnitude.

For my people have committed two evils: they have forsaken me [God],
the fountain of living waters, and hewed out cisterns for themselves, broken cisterns that can hold no water.

Jeremiah 2:13

Jeremiah 2:13 underscores the asininity of disobeying God. That is because the thing we replace God with typically never satisfies us, certainly not in the long run, and we risk losing God in the process. In another article, I elaborated on the basic Christian tenet that obedience maximizes grace. When life is viewed through a spiritual lens, a morally wrong act is always an irrational act.

Why, then, do we ever make poor moral choices, if poor moral choices are irrational?

One, we do not view our lives through a spiritual lens and have a narrow concept of the stakes. We only weigh immediate material consequences, which sometimes don’t seem all that bad or pressing. In the second case, we do view our lives through a spiritual lens; however, resident evil, temptations and impulses overpower us to think, say, or do the wrong thing. Right belief marks the beginning of integrity, but that is just a starting point. We still have to contend with flawed biologies, flawed natures, and flawed environments on a daily basis.

The Idolatry Of Lust

Lust was an idol in my life for years. It was a thing I frequently turned to for stimulation and satisfaction. It was what I medicated my anger with, medicated my fear with, medicated my desire to connect with women and people with. Like a broken cistern, it added no value to my life and always left me with lingering discontentment.

Every time I watched pornography or masturbated, I wasted something valuable. I wasted time, I wasted energy, I wasted mental and physical health. I wasted my ability to love and connect with God and the people who mattered most. It was almost never every day. Sometimes it was once every two weeks or once a month. Typically it lasted no more than a few minutes, but the effect was always one and the same. The truth is that lust has always been a common idol, and that is especially the case in an era of internet pornography and smartphone technology.

I have a friend who got hooked on pornography at age 11, long before he had the resources and support system in place to say “No.” My friend, who is not super spiritual, one day said to me “Pornography has added 0 value to my life.” Maybe you can relate.

It doesn’t take someone of faith to recognize that lust is a value-subtracted activity. Pornography is a black hole, a bully, a “hijacker,” as one healthcare professional termed it. Pornography, like all sinful idols, desires to control and dominate the subject of its worship. Remember this statement by God to Cain in the garden of Eden?

If you do well, will you not be accepted? And if you do not do well, sin lies at the door. And its desire is for you, but you should rule over it.

Genesis 4:7

For many people, food is an idol. Work is an idol. Entertainment is an idol. Certain relationships are idols. We never want to be in a place where we depend solely on things outside of ourselves to fill us up. Recognizing that God, who lives in us, is the one who supplies all of our external needs is an antidote to idolatry. Only then can we see these things as an instrument, controlled by, and subordinate to, another [God], not the source of life and refuge in and of themselves.

Let’s ask ourselves today, What idols am I yielding myself to that are bullying me and robbing me of good things in life?

For on the theme of idolatry, you can check out my article on John Bevere, the author of Killing Kryptonite: Destroy What Steals Your Strength. You can also visit the complete archive of articles on integrity.

An intellectually curious millennial passionate about seeing people make healthy, informed choices about the moral direction of their lives. When I’m not reading or writing, I enjoy hiking, web-making, learning foreign languages, and watching live sports. Alumnus of Georgetown University (B.S.) and The Ohio State University (M.A.).

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