The Heart Issue: Idolatry
There is a pretty average joke that goes something like this:
“How do you tell if someone is an engineer?”
“Don’t worry, they’ll tell you anyway.”
The joke does not get more than a small laugh, but it reveals something that Scripture already teaches: knowledge can puff us up. I can say confidently that my engineering and arrogance are closely associated. There is a widespread belief within engineering that majors outside of engineering are irrelevant. As Christians, this attitude of placing too much importance on academic pursuit leads to idolatry. But it is not just engineers who are guilty; all students are susceptible to seeking purpose and identity in academic success and intellect instead of finding it in Christ. We’ve created our own gods – engineered them, if you will – and are insistent on worshiping them.
Idolatry of an Engineered God: Academic Success
Ultimately, if a Christian idolizes academic success, he thinks he can find more purpose and satisfaction in academics than in Christ. It is easy to agree intellectually that such a belief is false, but difficult to live as if it is. In a desperate prayer, Jonah explained the issue of idolatry bluntly: “Those who pay regard to vain idols forsake their hope of steadfast love” (Jonah 2:8). If a Christian worships a false idol like academic success, he abandons his hope in Jesus’ steadfast love. A Christian cannot expect to be satisfied after abandoning Christ’s steadfast love.
In case Jonah is not convincing enough, I can give you an example from my own life: The mentality on campus is that the road to academic success is achieved through graduating with a high GPA, having multiple prestigious internships, holding leadership positions across campus, participating in research, and so on and so forth. This life, of course, requires sacrifice of community, free time, and sanity –and it’s all in the name of satisfaction and purpose.
I am a semester away from graduating and have accomplished most of those things. At times, it has been out of enjoyment and good stewardship, but too often it has been idolatry. I can say two things definitively: (1) academic success is not satisfying and has left me wanting, and (2) the times I have been most satisfied have been pursuing Christ in community. Even in community, the source of this satisfaction is Christ, towards which community points. Even selfishly using my satisfaction as the only criteria, pursuing Christ above academic success is the right decision.
Idolatry of an Engineered God: Intellect & Science
Another related- but more subtle- type of idolatry is that of intellect and science. It moves knowledge to the position of God. Pursuit of knowledge is no longer a means to an end, but knowledge itself is the end. It is this type of idolatry that leads to intellectual arrogance. Under this worldview, all propositions are false until the scientific method and peer reviewed studies have provided strong evidence (but of course, never proven) that a hypothesis might be true. It produces the belief that we cannot know anything for sure, which is a small step away from relativism.
This type of idolatry and worldview is in contrast to the teachings of scripture: “The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom, and the knowledge of the Holy One is insight” (Proverbs 9:10). To those who idolize intellect, this verse emphasizes the importance of knowledge of God. Knowledge can no longer be the end itself, but the means to the end of knowing God more intimately.
Just because the emphasis of the knowledge we obtain should be on Christ does not mean that we cannot or should not pursue other knowledge. Studying creation through science should motivate us to worship God as the Creator. Braille and Propaganda, two musicians from the West Coast, expressed this same thought in their song “Lofty”:
“It’s evident in creation that God is the primary cause
The origin of all scientific laws
Everything else is secondary…
Intelligent design doesn’t even begin to define his creative craftsmanship”
The Solution: Creativity Pointing to the Creator
In my Internal Combustion Engines class this semester, I’ve learned about how automobile manufactures use closed loop control to adjust ignition timing of an engine to prevent knock. Without explaining what any of that means, I remember marveling at the ingenuity required to design such a system. In Christ, I have freedom to marvel at the creativity of previous engineers, can admire their intellect, and work diligently to successfully learn to be such an engineer. But in doing so, I must not lose sight of the ultimate Creator, Designer, and Engineer of Life.
Nowhere else is His creativity on display better than in his design of the Gospel: a way to pardon man of sin like of idolatry of academic success and intellect. God designed a way to pardon us of sin while still remaining just by satisfying His wrath on His own son at the cross. By preserving his justice, He also extended us grace for our wrongs. Jesus satisfies all the needs our selfishness, arrogance, and pride are trying to. Christ humbles us but also gives us true meaning and purpose to life. Science will fail to show compassion and intellect will fail to love. Idolizing these things will leave us dry and dead, but Christ will not.
The design of such a system should cause us to marvel at the work of the Creator, and bring us to a sense of awe, worship, and freedom. Propaganda, reflecting on the design of the Gospel, was brought to that sense of awe:
“A system of redemption that could only be described as perfect
A seal of approval, fatal debt removal
Promised, prominent, perfect priest
Brilliant designed system, redemption for our kinsmen
Can only be described as perfect with excellent execution
And I’m in awe, the only one truly excellent”
Isaac Neale, University of Illinois Cru Senior
Propaganda’s song referenced above can be found here