What is an idol? Essentially it is a God other than God himself. It is something that we consume ourselves with and base our life’s meaning upon. If it is taken away, we will lose our sense of peace and joy.
As Christians, we worship God himself, and as a result we can’t have idols because it would mean that we aren’t worshipping God. We can’t worship God how we are meant to if we are worshipping something else at the same time. It would mean that we have more than one God. It seems so simple. But every time I talk about idolotry I come away with some new understanding or perspective on the subject. And I realized recently that it’s because idols can be tricky and subtle; and even as someone who loves God with my whole heart, I’m prone to finding alternatives to consume myself. As soon as I get over one idol it seems that I’m battling a new one. And I would bet that I’m not alone in that.
There are the obvious ones like money, status, and recognition, but even those aren’t always obvious. Let’s take money, for example. We all know the guy (or girl) who works long hours day after night and is consumed with moving up the corporate ladder for the sake of bringing home more and more money. He has a goal to get that extra $20K so he can add that extra room to the house. Once he gets it the goal turns into an additional $40K, and so it continues. But then there’s the girl (or guy) who has reached the fiscal point that she has worked toward and now just sits back and enjoys the money she has made. She and her family spend their time booking vacations, enjoying the finest restaurants, and having get-togethers at their beautiful home. In either case, if this is the whole story money could be considered an idol.
But what about the rich family that takes vacations, enjoys the finest restaurants, and has frequent get-togethers in their beautiful home — all while worshipping God? If all of their money gets stripped away, they continue to worhip God. So it might look the same on the outside as the situation described prior, but it is completely different. So how do we know when someone has an idol? We don’t, unless we know their heart. But it’s not our job to guess other people’s idols. We can, however, learn what our own idols are if we are willing to dig deep into our own hearts.
So I understand that idols are complicated and what might be an idol for one person can look exactly the same for another person without actually being an idol. But after pondering on the subject of idolotry lately, and recognizing the need to dig deep into my own heart, I came across a really tricky one that was consuming me. Rather than having just one thing that consumes me (i.e. one thing that I worship), it’s the combination of several of God’s creations that has become my idol. It’s the combination of my husband, my child, my relationships, my career, my income, my education, my status, my appearance, and my comfort. They are all simply God’s creations that he has chosen to give to me, but my tendency is to hold them so tight as if they are my own. So quickly I forget that they are merely on loan to me.
What makes this idol so complicated is that they are all good things, and none of them alone consumes me. But taken together, they consume my attention and shift my focus away from God himself. If I were to lose one of them, my world might not be completely rocked. I would probably still have my joy. But what if God decided to take all of them from me? Would I still be able to worship him? It would be really hard, and that is my clue to idolatry.
There’s a scripture that says,“If you want to be my disciple, you must hate everyone else by comparison—your father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters—yes, even your own life. Otherwise, you cannot be my disciple” (Luke 14:26). For me, this passage makes it clear that nothing is to take a close second to God. We are to worship God far beyond anyone or anything else. If we find that there is anything that consumes us, or that we would be unwilling to give up for our Lord, or that would cause us to stop worshiping God if we lost it, then it probably is an idol that is stripping us of the joy that we get from worshiping God alone.