“They were worshipping idols again?” my young daughter asked. “What’s wrong with them?!”
We have been reading through the Old Testament stories of the Hebrew people. In our children’s Bible, there is a pronounced pattern of idol worship, calamity, and repentance. Repeat. My daughter thinks the Hebrews should know better.
Of course, we’re the same way. And we should know better. But the very crux of sin is precisely that we do things we know we should not.
Despite this, God is ready to welcome us back, again. “I will heal their defection,” God says through the prophet Hosea, “I will love them freely” (Hos 14). This was after a whole lot of idol-worshipping and war and suffering.
Mid-way through Lent, let’s give God our defections and trust in his love.
Leaning into God’s love, really receiving it and relishing it, is the only way we can turn around and lavish love on others. That is why, in today’s Gospel, the command to love God with your whole heart is paired with the command to “love your neighbor as yourself.” They go together, always.
When we break the first part of the commandment—turning to idols instead of God—we fill our lives with things that keep us from loving others fully. Thus, in the Old Testament, false worship is followed by a rift in the people, to the point of the fall of a nation.
Case in point: have you ever seen the triangle diagram of a good marriage? God is at the top corner of the triangle, and the two spouses are at the bottom corners. As they grow in love toward God, moving up the sides of the triangle, they grow closer in love with each other. Things get better all the way around.
The good news is that when we find ourselves sliding down the triangle, God always stays at the top, ready to forgive, again.