How Idolatry Shrivels Your Soul

I tend to avoid books that have the phrase “how to” in either the title or subtitle, unless it’s something like “how to stop a chirping smoke detector.” This is especially true of Christian books. So it was with a bit of skepticism that I picked up Steve Hoppe’s book, Sipping Saltwater: How to Find Lasting Satisfaction in a World of Thirst.

I’m glad to say it surpassed my expectations.

Hoppe—a pastor at Park Community Church in Chicago—uses the metaphor of saltwater to show how we seek to quench our emotional, psychological, and spiritual thirsts by good things that aren’t thirst-quenching. Saltwater is water (which is good), and exists for a reason, but don’t try drinking it to quench your thirst. Doing so will lead to dehydration and eventually death.

Identify Idols

At the core, Hoppe writes about idolatry:

Drinking saltwater means turning a gift from God into a god. It means looking for salvation in something that was never meant to save us. It means deifying something we were merely supposed to enjoy. It means turning a good thing into an ultimate thing. It means worshiping something that was never meant to be worshiped. Drinking saltwater is what the Bible calls idolatry. (33)

According to Hoppe, saltwater can be treated in one of three ways: as a god (idolizing it), as garbage (demonizing it), or as a gift (to be used as God intended). “In all three instances,” he writes, “we’re putting our hope in something. In the first we’re putting our hope in the saltwater itself. In the second, we’re putting our hope in avoiding the saltwater. In the third, our hope is in the giver of the saltwater—Jesus Christ” (67). This is the paradigm I found most helpful in the book.

Saltwater can be treated in one of three ways: as a god (idolizing it), as garbage (demonizing it), or as a gift (to be used as God intended).

Hoppe then identifies eight common forms of saltwater and shows how each can be idolized, demonized, and seen as a gift that leads to worshiping the Giver.

The first form of saltwater he discusses is money. Writing of his own struggle in this area, he says, “I was sipping the saltwater of money. Instead of trusting in God, I was allowing my income (or lack thereof) to rule my heart, mind, and emotions” (72). That’s the heart of the book. Substitute the word income with sex, control, comfort, busyness, people, food, and works, and you have the outline of the book.

Sipping Saltwater: How to Find Lasting Satisfaction in a World of Thirst
Steve Hoppe
purchase on amazon
Sipping Saltwater: How to Find Lasting Satisfaction in a World of Thirst
Steve Hoppe
The Good Book Company (2017). 160 pp.

The uniqueness of this book comes in the metaphor of sipping saltwater. Even as Christians, we “sip” on idols such as money, relationships, careers, sex, food, human approval . . . the list is endless. These things promise to satisfy us—to quench our thirst. In the end, however, they fail to do so and leave us thirstier than we were before drinking them. To make matters worse, we are left with devastating hangovers—the negative consequences of our idolatry.

This book enables readers to identify their own source(s) of saltwater and explains how to quench their thirst with Jesus’s living water—the only drink that will ever truly satisfy us both now and for eternity. It inspires readers to go on in the Christian life as they started—by making Jesus the center of our lives and giving our worship to him.

Drawing from his experiences, stories from his years as a professional counselor, and examples from Scripture, Hoppe calls us to eschew both the idolization and demonization of those things and instead embrace them as gifts meant to be used (and enjoyed) for God’s glory. Only Christ, the Living Water, can truly quench our thirsts—all of them.

For Believers and Unbelievers

Sipping Saltwater is suitable for both believing and also unbelieving readers. For the unbeliever, Hoppe gives a clear presentation of the gospel, showing how Jesus is the source of living water freely offered to all. He is received by faith and is the only water that can truly satisfy. Come! Drink!

For believers, Hoppe reminds us of the need to continuously drink living water through Bible reading, prayer, fellowship, practicing generosity, praise, and evangelism.

Hoppe writes in an engaging, conversational style that makes the book an easy read. Whether you’re just beginning to explore the claims of Christ or are already a Christ follower, there’s much in this book that’s helpful and encouraging.

Mud Pies and Saltwater

As I was reading the book, the famous quote from C. S. Lewis was playing in the background of my mind:

We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased.

Making mud-pies or sipping saltwater—either way it’s idolatry. And this book will help you enjoy the holiday at the sea—and ultimately, the life-giving water only Christ provides.

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