Shoes. Comfy. Warm. Slip easily on (and off). The right color and look, matching your outfit perfectly and accentuating your look. You have to love a great pair of shoes.
That is, right up until you put on someone else’s shoes.
In me and my friends’ house we take off our shoes at the door. One year, I had to run back out to the car and I quickly, accidentally, slipped on someone else’s shoes. It was the right color; had the right look; even matched my outfit—all the shoes looked similar.
But it slipped on a bit too easily; it was a bit too big; a bit too warm. I discovered that although I could easily put them on, walking in them was extremely disconcerting.
And it makes me think, if I can’t walk far in the shoes of someone I’ve known for a while, how much harder is it for me to walk in the shoes of a person far removed. Say, walking in the shoes of a farmer—when I’ve never been one.
Indeed, at what point would I discover that I’m wearing a farmer’s shoes?
Then, I think, what if I separated those shoes by a couple of thousand years. I mean, what about walking in the shoes of a Corinthian on his way to one of the local temples for a party? It’d be obvious if I found myself in his shoes, but if they were sitting at my front step, would I know it when I put them on?
I think that’s part of the problem when we consider things like idolatry. Shoes that slip on a bit too easily, really belong to some other era, but we don’t know that they’re readily available on our front step.
In today’s world, idolatry has gone through a lot—including a couple thousand years of Church history. We’ve gotten to a point where we do funny things with idolatry and wind up not knowing how to deal with the real thing when we see it. Like an expensive sneaker on a shelf, we have ideas about it but we don’t think that it’s readily accessible to us.
I mean, today, if I say “idolatry” folk either (narrowly) imagines some ancient heathen bowing in front of a candle-lit statue while sacrificing a pig; or they expand the meaning to cover obsession with anything other than God: like Monday Night Football or the World Cup. Idolatry winds up either not really happening today—part of a long dead, pre-scientific world—or happening every day and in every way when you (or I) look at a chocolate bar without thinking about the Lord.
As such, when our world starts looking more like the world of the two thousand year old Corinthian, we don’t really address it for what it is. Our Christian language kicks in and we obscure the issue and ignore the reality of what Paul was dealing with in Corinth. We walk around in the shoes of a first century Corinthian and interpret it all with Romans 14 freedom: horrifying error.
Paul, and that ancient Corinthian, was not wearing our shoes. We’re walking around in their shoes and, horrifying mistake, we don’t know it. So these next few posts will deal directly with 1 Corinthians 8-10.