I’m currently reading a book called No Other Gods by Kelly Minter. As you might guess from the title, the content deals with false gods in our society. And surprisingly (or not so surprisingly), there are a lot of them. And I’m realizing that there are some in my own life. *gasp*
“An idol is something within creation that is inflated to function as God. All sorts of things are potential idols, depending on our attitudes and actions toward them… Idolatry may not involve explicit denials of God’s existence or character. It may well come in the form of an over-attachment to something that is, in itself, perfectly good… And idol can be a physical object, a property, a person, an activity, a role, an institution, a hope, an image, an idea, a pleasure, a hero – anything that can substitute for God.” Richard Keyes
I like Keyes definition. Not because he’s saying that if we love anything more than prayer meetings and revival services we’re enslaved to idol worship, but because he points out that anything we elevate to a place of priority (want) can become an idol in our life. And I like that he also mentions that idol worship doesn’t involve an explicit denial of God’s existence or of His place in our life.
2 Kings 17:33 says, “They worshiped the Lord, but they also served other gods.”
2 Kings 17:41 further explains, “Even while these people were worshiping the Lord, they were serving their idols.”
We’re not so different from the Israelites, you know. As Christians we take a couple of hours to worship God with our mouths on Sunday morning at church, and then spend the rest of the week in service to our other gods. Think about that one. Let is settle into your mind before you just toss it out. Mull it over for a bit. I’m not trying to sound judgmental or legalistic here, honestly. I find myself in this exact same predicament every day. And most days I find myself falling miserably into idol worship.
But what are idols anyway? It’s not like as Christians we have little carved statues all over our homes – this isn’t ancient Egypt for cryin’ out loud. I think, simply put, and idol is anything that we absolutely have to have. It’s something that we’re sure will make us feel better, or will elevate our status among our peers/friends/family, or is just on our list of must have’s in life.
For example, how many of you just had to have that expensive luxury car that sits in the garage and gets washed every singe week?
How many of you ‘would have died’ if you couldn’t live anywhere than your current home?
How many of you just had to put your kids in that school?
How many of you just couldn’t pass up those overpriced killer shoes or that trendy handbag?
How many of you had to upgrade to a bigger boat/RV/ATV,etc?
How many of you can’t miss an episode of American Idol or The Bachelorette or Survivor or Madmen (or the Super Bowl or the World Cup or ESPN sports, or any number of television programs)?
And how many have said they just had to get a certain promotion or a raise or a job in a certain company?
And it’s not like any of these things in and of themselves is bad. After all, the majority of us aren’t independently wealthy so jobs are necessary. And for most people cars are necessary. And certainly clothes are necessary. And schooling for kids is crucial. And being homeless isn’t a safe or desirable lifestyle. And having ‘toys’ isn’t sinful either. But it’s the attitudes that we have toward those things that makes them idols. For lots of people the belief that driving a certain type of vehicle, or living in a certain size of house (or neighborhood), or wearing a certain brand of clothes, or having a 62″ plasma TV hanging on the wall gives them a sense of accomplishment. A sense of self-importance. A notion of life or wealth or status. In essence, we will literally work our fingers to the bone in order to attain these things.
And another indicator that these things have become idols in our life is the fact that once we achieve these goals or possessions we find that they don’t bring us the satisfaction that we thought they would. That boat that we just had to have suddenly isn’t fast enough, or shiny enough, or big enough for us and we’re already contemplating a trade up.
The allure of idols is so subtle and so enticing, and yet they’re so completely unsatisfying. And as Christians we suffer greatly under idol worship. If you don’t believe me, just read the Bible. There are many passages in both the Old and New Testament that deal with satisfaction, self-worth, and possessions, and the value we place on these things. We see a classic example of this in Jesus’ encounter with the Rich Young Man. This man wanted more than anything to have an assurance of his place in heaven. He’d kept the letter of the Law, he was generous, and an all around good guy. But he had a life filled with idols, and we see that he left Jesus a very disappointed and dejected man. I’m not saying that wealth is bad – Jesus doesn’t say that either – but wealth buys a lot of comforts and pleasures, and those things quickly and subtly take up a god-place in our life.
And in America we are wealthy. You might not think it because you don’t have a 6-figure income or live in a mansion, but if you have a television in your home, or a car in your garage, or more than one set of clothes, or a refrigerator with food in it, or a bed to sleep in, or a roof over your head, or a few bucks in change in the console of your car then you are rich. America is the land of excess. We’re taught to always want more. Even in churches there’s always a dream of a bigger building, or more parking, or newer tech equipment, or upgraded seating, or fancier productions – all for the sake of having them. Oh, we can justify them. But that’s the point, isn’t it? If they weren’t idols we wouldn’t have to justify them, they’d be necessary – logical – obvious.
So what about you? It’s a tough question, I know. I’ve been rolling it over in my own head for a while now, and it’s scary how many things in my own life I’ve elevated to a position of importance and influence. There are tons of things I turn to first for comfort, instruction, wisdom, peace, joy, love, and attention instead of to God. I need to re-evaluate their place in my life, and put God back as the figurehead…and find a way to keep him there. Think about it, will you? Pray it over. Don’t just dismiss me as some legalistic nutter who wants everyone to live a life of poverty and prayer, but really search your own heart and life and ask the Lord to reveal to you anything that you’ve elevated (even unknowingly) to God’s place in your life. And then ask him to strengthen you as you tear down that (those) idol(s), and help you to build an altar of intimacy and relationship with Him.