It wasn’t long into my adult life that I realized I wouldn’t make a very good Stoic. I tend to find much too much pleasure in the material things around me. Whether it is a fine painting, a delicious meal, or a well-performed piece of music, it is natural for me to define the good life as one that contains liberal amounts of each of these.
The physical, created world is full of engaging and entertaining delights to enjoy, but it is essential to remember that nothing it contains can give you the life that your heart longs for. The pleasures of the created world were carefully crafted to point to the One who alone can give your heart eternal satisfaction.
Creation cannot and will not sustain us. In our distorted vision, we look at the shadow (the creation) and we see life. But the shadow has no life of its own and can give no life. The shadow is a shadow because it reflects what is alive.
I think no portion of Scripture better captures this warning better than Jeremiah 10:1–16. I don’t do this often, but I want to include the passage in its entirety today because it is so compelling.
Hear the word that the Lord speaks to you, O house of Israel. Thus says the Lord:
“Learn not the way of the nations,
nor be dismayed at the signs of the heavens
because the nations are dismayed at them,
for the customs of the peoples are vanity.
A tree from the forest is cut down
and worked with an axe by the hands of a craftsman.
They decorate it with silver and gold;
they fasten it with hammer and nails
so that it cannot move.
Their idols are like scarecrows in a cucumber field,
and they cannot speak;
they have to be carried,
for they cannot walk.
Do not be afraid of them,
for they cannot do evil,
neither is it in them to do good.”
There is none like you, O Lord;
you are great, and your name is great in might.
Who would not fear you, O King of the nations?
For this is your due;
for among all the wise ones of the nations
and in all their kingdoms
there is none like you.
They are both stupid and foolish;
the instruction of idols is but wood!
Beaten silver is brought from Tarshish,
and gold from Uphaz.
They are the work of the craftsman and of the hands of the goldsmith;
their clothing is violet and purple;
they are all the work of skilled men.
But the Lord is the true God;
he is the living God and the everlasting King.
At his wrath the earth quakes,
and the nations cannot endure his indignation.
Thus shall you say to them: “The gods who did not make the heavens and the earth shall perish from the earth and from under the heavens.”
It is he who made the earth by his power,
who established the world by his wisdom,
and by his understanding stretched out the heavens.
When he utters his voice, there is a tumult of waters in the heavens,
and he makes the mist rise from the ends of the earth.
He makes lightning for the rain,
and he brings forth the wind from his storehouses.
Every man is stupid and without knowledge;
every goldsmith is put to shame by his idols,
for his images are false,
and there is no breath in them.
They are worthless, a work of delusion;
at the time of their punishment they shall perish.
Not like these is he who is the portion of Jacob,
for he is the one who formed all things,
and Israel is the tribe of his inheritance;
the Lord of hosts is his name.
(Jeremiah 10:1–16, ESV)
The battle to replace the spiritual glories of the Creator with the physical glories of the creation will greet and grip us every day. It is a constant and inescapable struggle.
We will be tempted to worship our bodies, pleasure, wealth, possessions, the security of a location, the acceptance of a flawed person—while at the same time forgetting the spiritual glories of intimate communion with the Lord of Lords, the King of Kings, the great Creator.
“They exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever! Amen.” (Romans 1:25, ESV)
Could it be today that you will fretfully search in creation for what you have already been given in the Creator? Will you try to drink from an empty well when you have already been given thirst-quenching living water?
Paul David Tripp
1. What about the created world do you enjoy the most? Do you define your day or week as a good day or week if you experience a liberal amount of these things?
2. How do these pleasures that you enjoy point to the Creator who carefully crafted them? Why is it appropriate to appreciate them?
3. While enjoying these created pleasures, do you simply stop at the enjoyment? Have you grown entitled and demanding? How can you move beyond enjoyment to vertical worship and humble gratitude?
4. In what ways have you looked to creation for life and sustenance? How have your idols previously disappointed you and left you thirsty? Where are you at risk of repeating this delusion?
5. Do you operate with a consumer attitude or a steward attitude? How can you move away from pursuing creation for personal use and towards stewarding creation for the Kingdom? How can you be more generous with the resources that God has given you? Be specific.