One day while praying on my lunch break I had the idea to do this series of articles on being a Christian who collects things. The purpose of this series isn’t to condemn anyone who collects, but to simply explore some possible pitfalls that we may come across with being both Christians and collectors. While this could probably be extended to a much larger degree (Hey, there are probably books on the subject for all I know), I’m going to focus on four areas that came to mind:
4) Earthly Treasure/Heavenly Treasure
I plan to do a separate article for each and ask that comments remain relevant to the particular articles’ focus; in other words, please discuss idolatry on the idolatry article and greed on the greed article, not vice versa. That being said…
“I am the Lord your God, who rescued you from the land of Egypt, the place of your slavery.3 “You must not have any other god but me. – Exodus 20: 2-3 (NLT) (1)
Typically, I would quote from the NIV but I chose the NLT this time because of the wording (no translation wars, please; that is not the point of this article). Simply put, a lot of translations seem to use the phrasing “you shall have no other gods before me” in some capacity. While the meaning may be the same as the above, it leaves open the possible (mis)interpretation that, so long as we worship God first and foremost, it’s okay if we are a bit worshippy towards other things. As I understand it, that’s not the case, and the meaning is as above: God is to be our only God, period. This may or may not be common sense, but an idol is, essentially, something we worship other than God. It does not have to be a stone statue of some pagan deity to count. Ultimately, anything that takes a place in our hearts or lives that should only belong to God becomes an idol. I am certainly no expert on the criteria for something becoming an “idol,” but I’ll take my best shot and hope that you fine readers will contribute your thoughts in the comments section.
So, let’s get the obvious out of the way: if you’re bowing down to it, singing praises to it, and other things that you would typically associate with straight-up worship, then you’re treating it like an idol. Do people do this with their collections? Maybe not quite so obviously, but I think the following image may very well qualify:
If this is what I expect it to be, then it is a picture of a fan celebrating the “birthday” of K-On! character, Azusa. Now, I’m quite a fan of K-On!. I have figures of the characters (including Azusa), as well as the blu-rays of the show and (most) of the manga, but there is a fine line between appreciating a character (or a series) and being infatuated with them–a line we may all very well cross at times, whether we realize it or not. Now, granted, I cannot judge the spirit behind what this person is doing, so I can’t definitively say the person who did this is guilty of idolatry, but I think this is certainly an idea of what idolatry of a collection could look like. At the very least, it could be argued that this person is venerating a fictitious character enough to observe her birthday.
Let’s get a little more obscure, shall we? What if our collection starts taking up more time or money than God? Does that make it an idol? I think it’s easier to make the case for money. If you tithe on your income (that’s 10%, in case you’re unaware), then do you spend more on your particular collection than you tithe? Personally, I see this as hard to do unless you are a hardcore collector. Let’s crunch some numbers for a moment:
For simplicity’s sake, I’m going to say I make $30,000 a year. That means that my tithe to God would be $3,000 a year. Let’s take my hobby as a gamer and compare it to that. Even if I bought a PS4 and then bought a $60 game at the time of purchase, and then another game each month for the rest of the year, I would only spend $1119.99 total on that game collection a year–a significantly less amount than my tithe. How does money relate to idolatry? I would argue that, since our money ultimately comes from God, then we should probably make sure to honor Him with it first. Now, the argument could be made that God only asks for 10% back, and then we can do with the 90% what we will. Debate that if you will, but let’s not forget that we have other responsibilities besides our collections: bills, food, home and car maintenance, etc., and we are stewards of all these things that God has given us. Even if God has given us that 90% to do with as we wish, we are still responsible for caring for the other things He has placed in our care. If our collections or hobbies get in the way of this, then we have to ask ourselves what we are valuing more: our stewardship of God’s goods, or our own personal collections. The whole issue of spending on collections versus giving to God gets a little more muddy for someone, like me, who has multiple things he collects: should I apply my rule as a collective rule to the total sum of my collections, or should I just make sure that no one collection gets more money spent on it than what I give in tithes?
Time is a little more tricky for me, and let me explain why. The obvious thing here is that, if you are ultimately sacrificing time that you would have spent with God for the sake of your collecting, then you are breaching idolatry territory because you are willingly avoiding God to sink time into this collection of yours. I do not know that I would go so far as to say that spending more time with your collection than with God immediately equals idolatry, though. Simply put, if we spend three hours with God only so we can justify spending two hours working on our collections, then what is the true status of our hearts? Didn’t we just essentially use God so we can justify what we wanted to do? On the other hand, if we only spend thirty minutes with God while spending more time working on our collections, but that time with God sets our direction for the day and causes us to reflect on His word even when we’re spending time doing other things, then I would argue that God is still the most important thing to us. I may be using this out of context (please correct me if I am), but Oswald Chambers has a quote that I think is applicable here:
“It is not the thing we spend the most time on that moulds us most; the greatest element is the thing that exerts most power. We must determine to be limited and concentrate our affinities.”(2)
Simply put: does God or our collection exert the most power over us?
While this could inevitably go on, I’ll close with a question that can probably be assumed from things already said: what holds the place of prominence in our hearts?
We can offer God all of the religious language and body poses we want, but if our hearts are ultimately consumed with our collections–if we’re worshipping God in church or at home, and all we can think about is when we can get home to our stuff–then we have us an idol. Ultimately, if we love our collections more than God–if God is just an obstacle we must get through in order to spend more time on our collections, rather than the One we give thanks to for allowing us to enjoy these things–then our collection is our god, and we have exchanged the glory of God for an idol. Can any of us truly say that we never slip into idolatry with our collections? To that, I must simply say that I don’t know. It’s certainly a question that I constantly ask myself, particularly in the area of videogames. While I have no problem going without playing a game, I certainly prefer being able to play over not being able to play. Is it idolatrous to get excited over our collections or the thought of our collections–perhaps, even, over the thought of adding to our collections? Again, I don’t know, although I suppose it would have something to do in part with how much emphasis we put on these things.
I previously admitted that this whole topic could certainly be fleshed out more, and that includes each individual area. I am certainly no expert on idols, and this article is really just a reflection from things that I know/have learned/etc. We could probably discuss this for years and still have new thoughts coming in. That being said, I welcome any and all comments and thoughts that you may have. Some questions you may like to consider:
1) Do you have a collection?
2) If so, how do you keep it from becoming an idol?
3) Is it just too dangerous for a Christian to have a collection of anything?
Of course, you’re not limited to those questions at all. Sound off below!
Background image taken from: http://th06.deviantart.net/fs44/PRE/i/2009/134/a/e/Mecha_Model_Collection_by_yukikaze07.jpg