You shall make for yourselves no idols and erect no carved images or pillars, and you shall not place figured stones in your land, to worship at them; for I am the Lord your God.
(Leviticus 26:1, NRSV)
The Bible is pretty clear that God doesn’t like idols. Leviticus is just one citation. Ezekiel is chock full of Scripture verses condemning idols. You can also find Scripture about idols in Exodus, Psalms, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Hosea, Daniel, 2 Kings, Romans, 1 Corinthians, 1 Thessalonians, Acts, and Revelation. And that’s just the short list. There are other books of the Bible that talk about idolatry. The list is pretty extensive.
What is an idol?
One definition states that an idol is an image or representation of a god used as an object of worship.
Why doesn’t God like idols? Because idols are things we place above or equal to God in importance.
Idols demand unquestioning loyalty and devotion from us. Idols offer us false promises. Idols lie to us. Idols demand human sacrifice. Idols have high priests who speak on their behalf. Idols demand our attention. Idols demand money and resources. Idols don’t like to be exposed for what they are.
Idols lead to death and destruction.
The question is this: What are the idols we worship? Do we dare name them? Do we dare expose them for what they are? Do we dare admit that we each have idols that we worship and set above God?
What are the idols of our nation? Of our culture? Do we dare examine the nation and culture? Are we willing to admit that we are obsessed with idols?
You are probably alright with this article to this point. You may be even naming idols that you recognize in society. Talking about idols in general is safe. But what happens when we name our own idols? Now it’s personal. We don’t like it. Do we dare name our own idols? Do we dare read on when our own idols are exposed for what they truly are?
Here are some idols that I observe in our nation and culture – some of which I am guilty of worshiping also. Before you blast off an angry message to me because I touched your idol, let what I am saying sink in.
- Being right. This idol demands so much from us and promises us greatly. Except the promise is empty. The sacrifice is relationships we have that are destroyed as we seek to please this idol.
- Intelligence. This idol gives us the hope that it can solve all of our problems and can make us better than other people who aren’t as smart. The sacrifice is the dehumanizing effect on other people.
- Production. This idol attempts to dictate our value and worth based on what we do. Those that produce more are worth more according to this idol. The sacrifice we offer this idol is those in poverty who can’t produce more.
- Political Party. This idol promises us answers to all our challenges and salvation if only we give our loyalty to it. The sacrifice is our attention, our money, and our energy that the party demands. The sacrifice is a mind that is no longer free to think, but only accept whatever the party says is true. Truth is sacrificed.
- Guns. This idol touches many nerves for so many. It offers us a promise of safety and security in a dangerous world. The sacrifice that is demanded is paid in the death of so many.
- Big Government. This idol promises to take care of us. The sacrifice is freedom. The sacrifice is resources.
- Security. This idol takes on many forms – a wall, military, etc. It offers us control over our lives by removing unpleasant and dangerous individuals and groups. The sacrifice is freedom, diversity, environmental cost, and more.
- Abortion. This idol promises liberty for the body and solving a problem. The sacrifice is paid in human lives.
- Money. This idol tells us the lie that we can’t live without it. That it has to make the decisions. That we never have enough of it. The sacrifice is our health and relationships in order to get more of it. It one of the pervasive idols throughout history.
This list could go on and on. I’m sure you don’t like that I have named some things as idols. I’m sure that you think I’m wrong in some cases or that my reasoning is far off. I’m sure you can come up arguments to show how very wrong I am. I’m certainly open to that possibility. But I’m curious – are you upset that I have named something important to you as an idol? Facing idols, especially the idols that we worship, that we place above God, is not easy to look at. It is not easy to look in the mirror and say that I am sinful and have made an idol more important than God. There isn’t a person who as has been alive who is innocent of this. Including me. Including you.
Idols demand our worship and attention. Idols are equal opportunity false gods. They don’t care what your politics are or your beliefs. Idols strike left and right equally. And demand just as much sacrifice.
What would you add to this list? What are the lies and the sacrifice that are paid for these idols?
As Christians, we are called to reject idols. But more importantly, to turn our attention and devotion to God. It is God who makes promises that are kept. It is God who speaks truth to us. It is God who tells us the truth that there will be difficulties in life. It is God who promises to walk with us in these dark valleys. Idols can never fulfill these promises. God does. Every day. In so many ways. When idols are put aside, our eyes have clearer vision to see God. When idols are put aside, our ears are open to hear God. When idols are put aside, our heart is softened to recognize God in our midst.