The Calves of Jeroboam and Depression

by Mike Ratliff

1 Therefore, if you have been raised up with Christ, keep seeking the things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. 2 Set your mind on the things above, not on the things that are on earth. 3 For you died and your life has been hidden with Christ in God. 4 When Christ, who is our life, is manifested, then you also will be manifested with Him in glory.
5 Therefore, consider the members of your earthly body as dead to sexual immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and greed, which is idolatry. 6 On account of these things, the wrath of God is coming upon the sons of disobedience, 7 and in them you also once walked, when you were living in them. Colossians 3:1-7 (LSB) 

We are born from our Mothers’ wombs depraved and separated from God because we are sinners. Unless God intervenes in our lives we will be self-absorbed and temporally focused in every part of our lives. We are “depraved” because we desperately seek fulfillment from our only avenue open to us for any circumstance which will tell us we are special or deserving of a positive “feeling” of contentment or fulfillment. That avenue is the flesh. Our flesh is all about self. Even seemingly selfless acts are done from a motivation of some form of self-gratification.

Man is intensely religious. Even those who claim to be atheists worship themselves. Natural Man must worship someone or something. Idolatry is the result. The following quote of from Martin Luther’s Table Talk from the chapter “Of Idolatry” article CLXXV.

The calves of Jeroboam still remain in the world, and will remain to the last day; not that any man now makes calves like Jeroboam’s, but upon whatsoever a man depends or trusts–God set aside–this is the calves of Jeroboam: this is, other and strange gods, honored and worshipped instead of the only, true, living, and eternal God, who only can and will help and comfort all need. – Martin Luther

One of my biggest struggles growing up was depression. I was despondent at times that made no sense to my parents or siblings or friends. I was never suicidal, but I was very sad much of the time because circumstances just seemed to be “all wrong.” I somehow had come to the conclusion that at some point in my past there was a time when I was “happy” and everything was “perfect.” Part of this delusion also centered on a “hope” that circumstances would somehow work themselves out so that I could return to this perfection. I began to seek this sense of “contentment” in all sorts of relationships, possessions, and circumstances. Well, guess what? Yes, that is right, there was always something wrong no matter how positive my circumstances were. This resulted in a young man who seemed to be unable to have many close friends. He also could not enjoy good circumstances because of the nagging sense that there was something missing. In High School, I did not date much because I just would not risk being let down in relationships.

Look at this photo:


This was taken at Christmas 1961 when I was in the 5th grade. The big red bicycle was the grand prize in a contest that my Dad won on Christmas Eve. Of course, he won the bike for me. It was a special bicycle. Now, look a the expression on my face. Does that look like someone who had just received such a special gift? I do remember being very excited about the contest and him winning it. I knew that I would get the bike if he won. He took this picture of me probably about an hour after he delivered it to our home. What is wrong with this kid? I can tell you what is wrong. The excitement of winning it did not match up to the fact that now I had it and it did not bring the fulfillment that I so deeply desired.

This lack of being able to be fulfilled continued until January 1986. God saved me one very cold Sunday morning that month and year. Over the next several years God worked in my regenerated heart to develop a heart devotion to Him and Him alone for fulfillment. Now here I sit in 2023 going on 72 years of age and believe that God has finally changed this heart of mine so that I never look to circumstances, relationships, or possessions for fulfillment. Instead, my entire identity is based in Him. He has even removed all identity that I did have as Bible teacher in Church. He has made it clear to me that idolatry must go and I had made an idol of church and my service there.

What floats your boat? How about sports? How about fitness? How about your relationships with your family and friends? How about your church and your identity there? How about your “works” there? If we attempt to seek our fulfillment in any of these things in the place of our devotion to God then we have committed the sin of idolatry. Whatever it is that we are worshiping, but God with a pure heart, it is no more than a golden calf belonging to Jeroboam. God blessed Job with much wealth, a wonderful family, and a great reputation for being God’s man. After God allowed Satan to take everything away from Job except for his life, we find that Job had one problem that was “cured” in his affliction. He saw himself as “deserving” of blessing and “undeserving” of cursing because of his upright life and relationship with God. In the end, however, God confronted Him about this. Job then saw that his fulfillment must be in God alone, not in anything in himself.

I fear that most “Christians” are in the same boat. We have a golden calf that consists of our “works” and devotion to God in church. While there is nothing wrong with either, if they take of the place of knowing God and being fulfilled in Him alone no matter what we get out of it, then it is nothing but idolatry. We must cry ‘Abba Father,’ love Him, seek His face, and enjoy Him for who He is no matter what our circumstances are like. He is our loving Heavenly Father who desires this unconditional love and devotion from His children. I think I have finally gotten to the place in my life where this is all I want.

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