Fearful and Futile Idols

When I hear “scarecrow” I think of two things: the Batman villian and the Wizard of Oz hero. But that’s probably because I grew up in an urban environment, not rural. For centuries farmers have used scarecrows to scare away, birds, animals and pests. Of course the irony is that scarecrows – which really can be scary – actually have no power to harm anything. Nonetheless, stupid birds and animals fear them.

The prophet Jeremiah compares idols to scarecrows, and our fear of them to the dumb fear of animals. He writes,

Their idols are like scarecrows in a cucumber field, and they cannot speak; they have to be carried for they cannot walk. Do not be afraid of them for they cannot do evil, neither is it in them to do good. (Jeremiah 10:5)

Just like scarecrows appear to be humans, idols appear to be gods. Humans, however, are too foolish to tell the difference between idols and gods. It should be obvious, Jeremiah says, because idols only move and speak with human help – they have no power within themselves to do anything.

You see, idols appear to do what only a god can do. They make promises only a god can: “I will make you happy; I will give you what you want; I will heal your lonlines; I will give you worth; I will give you identity.” But in reality, “it is [not] in them to do good.”

Think about your idols. Success? It promises you happiness, meaning, value, and identity, like only a god can. But does it ever fully provide? Nope, it has no real power.

Even more than that, idols frighten us as only a god can. They threaten, “If you disobey me I will destroy you; if you let me down I will leave you; if you deny me I will crush you.” Yet, accroding to Jeremiah, “They cannot do evil.”

If you fail success it threatens you. “If you’re not successful, people won’t value you; no one will listen to you; you’ll have no purpose.” But can success actually follow through on it’s threats? Nope.

The only way idols work, is if we do the work for them – if we make ourselves arrogantly happy or punish ourselves for failing. “They have to be carried for they cannot walk.”

Idols are futile, but frightening and psychologically potent. Our spiritual senses are so dumb that we, just like the animals mistaking scarecrows for humans, mistake idols – thing make promises like god – for gods.

What idol are you living for? Should you appease it, you’ll be unbearbly proud and arrogant. Should you fail it, you will be misterable, sad and depressed. It will rule you until you see it for what it is: a scarecrow. Instead let’s turn to the true living God, who can uphold his promises.


About Patrick K. Miller

Currently I am living in Columbia serving at the University of Missouri with Veritas, The Crossing's campus ministry. In December 2010 I graduated from Mizzou with a degree in English Literature. My beautiful wife, Emily, works is an Interior Designer with a local firm. I like espresso, 30 Rock, and books. My favorite old dead guys are John Owen, Augustine and Francis Schaeffer. You should read something by them.
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