Reflections: The Substance of Idols

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C.S. Lewis, whose works I started to read and champion [back in the sixties], writes about houses of cards. In one of his last works, A Grief Observed, which later became the basis of the highly fictionalized film, Shadowlands, he compares his faith to a house of cards.

"If my house has collapsed at one blow, that is because it was a house of cards. (31)…If my house was a house of cards, the sooner it was knocked down the better….when reality smashes my dream to bits, I mope and snarl while the first shock lasts, and then patiently, idiotically, start putting it together again…However often the house of cards falls, shall I set about rebuilding it? (32) Indeed it’s likely enough that what I shall call, if it happens, a ‘restoration of faith’ will turn out to be only one more house of cards. And I shan’t know whether it is or not until the next blow comes. (32) God has not been trying an experiment on my faith or love in order to find out their quality. He knew it already. He always knew that my temple was a house of cards. His only way of making me realize the fact was to knock it down. (42-43) And all this time I may, once more, be building with cards. And if I am He will once more knock the building flat. He will knock it down as often as proves necessary…unless I have to be finally given up as hopeless, and left building pasteboard palaces in Hell forever….(53)"

The first section of the Doctrine and Covenants was written by Jesus Christ. Christ refers to those who will not give heed to the apostles and prophets:

"They seek not the Lord to establish his righteousness, but every man walketh in his own way, and after the image of his own God, whose image is in the likeness of the world, and whose substance is that of an idol" (Doctrine and Covenants 1:16)

Every house of cards is founded upon an idol. These idols are in the likeness of the world. The hardest thing for many Latter-day Saints to realize is that we must constantly test the foundations of our own houses of cards, our own idols and images against the pure light found in the words of the Lord. President Boyd K. Packer made a distinction between the scriptures and all other books, even those written by the General Authorities of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. He said the primacy of the scriptures comes from the fact that they have the unique power to reproduce themselves in us. They teach us how to receive revelation from the Lord. No other books can do that.

The way to avoid the images and idols of the world, and the way, finally, to stop building houses of collapsing cards is, simply, to make intense and careful scripture study a major part of our lives. It’s easy to let this slide, to tell ourselves we’ll do it later when we get on with life. But the terrible truth is this: What is happening is what is going to happen.

Some of you may have heard the story of Apostle Marion G. Romney. When he began his law practice as a young man in Salt Lake City in order to keep his priorities straight he adopted a regimen which he followed for fifteen years. He would get to work a couple of hours early. He would then read the scriptures for 45 minutes, and then, and this is the amazing part, pray about what he’d read for another 45. Over those 15 years, he read the New Testament, the Book of Mormon, the Doctrine and Covenants, and the Pearl of Great Price nine times each. He read the Old Testament six times. He wasn’t just reading, he was studying things out in his mind and asking the Lord about it. President Packer said that Marion G. Romney was the scriptorian of the General Authorities, and also that he seemed to have a special calling to pray for them in their meetings. Both things grew out of his devotional regimen as a young professional.

Resist allowing the structures, the houses of cards, the idols you encounter at work, or in your studies, or in the social scene to determine your direct relationship with the Lord. Put your relationship with the Lord first in your life.

C.S. Lewis often noted that when you put First Things first in your life, Second Things follow along. But if you put Second Things first, you will lose both Second and First Things. He would often quote the 18th century preacher, William Law, who warned, “If you have not chosen the Kingdom of God, it will make in the end no difference what you have chosen instead.”