I am becoming increasingly convinced that idol worship is a much bigger problem than we imagine. And it is not only a problem somewhere out there among the pagans. It is very close to home. We find this sobering statement in 2 Kings 17:41: “Even while these people were worshiping the LORD, they were serving their idols.”
I won’t discuss the context of the verse here, but I’m afraid it is a description that might well apply to many within the Christian church today. I am afraid it applies to me. The idols in my life are fiercely competing for and too often receiving the worship and service that belong to God alone.
I have a hunch that whenever I become angry or impatient or critical or over-stressed or frustrated, etc., it is because I have been bowing to an idol instead of to God. Or, alternatively, perhaps, it is because I have been approaching God as if He were just another one of the puppet-string idols I set up.
Both alternatives are idolatry, and in both I have expectations that certain behaviors on my part will result in certain corresponding blessings. If I pay my dues, I deserve certain returns.
But God does not allow me to dictate or define the terms of His blessings, and my idols are worthless, unable to do what I call upon them to do. No matter how much I manipulate and try to pull strings, fire does not fall upon the altars I have set up.
I become indignant when the idols (or my personal version of God) do not answer; thus, my anger, impatience and frustration. But I am bound to serve them, so I expend time and energy (service) trying to discover what they require. They will bless me!
It is a bitter but just irony that the gods I create to do my bidding end up controlling me. While on the one hand, idols are utterly powerless, on the other, they wield such great power over me, that I become powerless.
The Scriptures speak of this odd paradox. 2 Kings 17:15 describes it this way: “They worshiped worthless idols and became worthless themselves.” And in Psalm 115, we read the following contrast between the living God, who does what He pleases, and the worthlessness of inanimate idols. Note, especially, however, the chilling warning that comes at the end of the passage.
1 Not to us, LORD, not to us
but to your name be the glory,
because of your love and faithfulness.
2 Why do the nations say,
“Where is their God?”
3 Our God is in heaven;
he does whatever pleases him.
4 But their idols are silver and gold,
made by human hands.
5 They have mouths, but cannot speak,
eyes, but cannot see.
6 They have ears, but cannot hear,
noses, but cannot smell.
7 They have hands, but cannot feel,
feet, but cannot walk,
nor can they utter a sound with their throats.
8 Those who make them will be like them,
and so will all who trust in them. (Psalm 115:2-8, emphasis added.)
When I worship idols, I give worth-ship to what is worthless, and the best of me (my very life) is siphoned off until I am reduced to the same nothingness that I hold in esteem. The more I am bound by my service to the idols, the more I stop abiding in the Lord and Giver of Life. My spiritual life and sense drain away until I am no longer able to discern what is true or real. I become like what I worship.
Idol worship is deadly, which is why it is treated with such drastic measures in the Scriptures. It is a problem so dangerous that the first two of the ten commandments address it, communicating there are to be no other gods before the LORD (that is, in His presence) and no idolatrous private re-imaging of the living God.
May we discern the mortal danger of serving idols while worshiping the LORD. May we fall on our knees before the Living God, acknowledging that we are bound by the idols our own hands have created, crying out for mercy and forgiveness and freedom. May we pray for the Spirit to combat the effects of all our idolatries and to renew our lives and spiritual sensibility. And may we return again and again to the Cross of Christ, by which all other powers and authorities that would rule us have been disarmed and overthrown. Finally, may we worship the LORD and Him only, finding that His service is perfect freedom.
Scripture taken from the Holy Bible, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION®, NIV® Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide. NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION® and NIV® are registered trademarks of Biblica, Inc. Use of either trademark for the offering of goods or services requires the prior written consent of Biblica US, Inc.