Why do people worship idols? Generally speaking, we worship idols because we believe that they will deliver something to us that we would otherwise have to leave up to chance, fate, or God (if we happen to believe he even exists.) Idols always demand perpetual sacrifice (Psalm 106:38). What are the modern day sacrifices our idols might demand of us? As believers who are tempted to worship the idols of our heart’s making, what are we sacrificing at their altars? We may even be unable to identify what our idols are demanding of us if we are not able to acknowledge what precisely our idols are.
You may know right off the bat what some of your own heart idols are. We all have our own cravings and delights that we live to serve. But did you know that your demographic, whether geographic location, age, career path, level of education, or any other category by which you can be described, has its own set of idols also? We know from history that particular idols have always held particular sway in the hearts of particular people in particular places. But what exactly is an idol? Or maybe another way to ask the question is, what isn’t an idol? An idol is a bit of a paradox. It’s a something and a nothing at the same time.
The something: An idol is anything or anyone that our hearts cling to for provision, hope, security, the fulfillment of our desires besides God Himself.
Isaiah 44:19 No one considers, nor is there knowledge or discernment to say, “Half of it I burned in the fire; I also baked bread on its coals; I roasted meat and have eaten. And shall I make the rest of it an abomination? Shall I fall down before a block of wood?”
The nothing: According to Isaiah 44, an idol is as powerful to deliver anything to a person (or deliver them from anything!) as a block of wood… It is fashioned by us, for us, and must be maintained by us.
But oh, friends, don’t believe for a second that the fact that our idols are powerless to save and provide renders them completely powerless. For the act of worshiping something as inanimate and impotent as a block of wood, has an incredible destructive power over our hearts.
Have you stopped to consider what the regional idols in your part of the world are? What about your income bracket? Or your age group? Here are some that I know are idols in my neck of the woods: Success, wealth, educational ascent, expertise, the hope of present or future leisure, security, musical ability, sexual satisfaction, physical beauty or strength, a picture perfect life/house/car, family, approval or accolades… the list is really quite long and it barely scratches the surface. Of course all of these things are not necessarily wrong in and of themselves when they are seen as gifts of a gracious heavenly father and not the result of our devotion to them. But what if they are demanding so much of us that we are stealing from the Lord or his people in order to “pay the piper?”
When I was about 3 or 4 years old I stole something from a store. You will probably laugh when you hear that I (now a minister’s wife) stole a tiny rubber eraser in the shape of a lion from, of all places, the local Bible Book Store. I wanted it. I needed it. But clearly I didn’t trust that my mother would agree to this need and purchase it for me, so I just took matters into my own hands and nabbed it. Once I had it at home, I sat it on my window sill. And I swear that lion was basically the Lion of Judah staring darts of conviction into my heart every time I looked at it. I never once used it to erase anything.
After a very short while, I couldn’t stand it anymore and decided I needed to get rid of it so I creatively came up with the solution. Give it away as a present! I gave it to one of my friends, thankful just to have it out of my sight because I knew, even at that young age, what it had demanded of me. But yet, I didn’t quite understand that just giving it away as a gift “out of the kindness of my heart” wasn’t going to take care of the problem. That was an act of penance, not of true repentance, and it provided me little more than immediate relief of the burden I was carrying. What if we find that even when we do give a part of what we have attained through the worship of our idols we discover that we are giving them away more as an act of penance for what it took for us to attain them, than as real sacrifice of praise?
There is always a price to be paid for the worship of idols.
What are the demands that our idols place upon our lives in terms of time and resources? What opportunities for fellowship, service, mercy, and witness in the world might we be not responding to as a result of our devotion to one or more of our regional or personal idols? Our calendars may very well be the first tip off of what or whom we are worshipping. If we hear of needs and simply never have the time nor inclination to respond in action because we have scheduled or planned our lives out to such a degree, in chasing after our idols, that there is no room for any deviation from that, might we be grieving the Holy Spirit? Might we not be in the place where we are needed?
Christians, we need to be asking the Lord to reveal to us where our hearts so readily cling to the empty promises of the things that we can see in front of us, the things that we are so tempted to treasure. “For where our treasure is, there are hearts will be also.”