Idolatry is a topic that has been discussed before on this blog, but it one of those perennial topics that you must always revisit. It’s the motherload. So here is a brief refresher/primer into what the Bible means when it refers to idolatry as a means of understanding sin.
Idolatry is a tendency of all humans to take things and put them in the place of God – idolatry was not simply a cultural sin of the Israelites thousands of years ago. We may not be carving things out of stone anymore or saying to a pile of wood “you are my god,” but if we think that those passages about idolatry have nothing to say to us because of that we are missing a whole lot. In our culture and our time the root of idolatry (fallen humanity) grows up into a different kind of tree that bears different kind of fruit, so when looking for our idols we must look for different things. If we stop the search at carved stone gods and, finding none, think that we are in the clear, we are in danger. We have to realize that their chief sin was not that they carved things, but that they exchanged the Glory of the Living God for something worthless. They worshipped something other than Him in their hearts.
We were made to live with everything in its right place; with the creator in the place of the creator and the creations in the place of the creations. Idolatry is switching of the two; putting the creations in God’s place and asking of them things that only are truly to be found in God, bowing down to things other than God and giving them the rule in our lives that is God’s alone.
This opens idolatry up; instead of searching for golden calves and altars we are searching for something much more difficult to spot, the places our hearts are subtly or sometimes blatantly cheating on God. The things in our lives which are our day to day masters; which have powerful say in our lives. The things we look to to save us from the worries and pains and stresses of our days.
It is not so much a question of the things in themselves being evil; it is what our sinful hearts ask of them and do with them that causes destruction.
It is hard to get such an accurate perception of ourselves that we can make a good diagnosis of our own idols, so we must come, as it were, to those answers through the backdoor. We are too close to our own idols, but they reveal themselves despite us. These questions might help in locating them. It boils down to finding out what you are asking the idols:
Can you give me security?
…make me feel beautiful?
…make me feel loved?
…assure me I am worthy?
…guarantee my future?
…help me control and be the sovereign of my life?
So we must ask:
What am I most afraid of?
What do I long for most passionately
What is my hell? Heaven?
Where do you run for comfort? Anger? Food? Other person?
What do you complain about most?
What angers you most?
What makes you happiest?
What do you worry about?
How do you explain yourself to others? Articulate who you are?
What causes you do be angry with God? Disappointed? Frustrated?
(I am angry at the real god because he didn’t serve my false God)
What do you brag about?
What do you want more than anything else?
What, if you had it, could you be happy even though God did not exist?
What do you sacrifice for?
If you could change one thing in your life what would it be?
Whose approval are you seeking? Whose approval matters most? Whose doesn’t matter?
What do you want to control? What do you keep trying to bring under your dominion as a little sovereign?
What comfort do you treasure the most? What do you run to to get yourself centered?
Essentially, we take the good things and ask them to give us what only God can give us, and what he cannot give us truly apart from himself. We take the things God created and turn to them instead of the Creator.
Like God said of the Israelites, “My people have exchanged their Glory for something worthless.” The process of redemption works this backwards. It takes a whole life long, but God is gracious, and sends us help. He woos us back to him. He lets us feel the pain our idols cause so we can come to him for balm.