On Idolatry…

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We were at The Museum of Natural History looking at the minerals and gems. My friend said, “Many of the Hindustani have a rock in the yard that they pour milk over each day.” When I asked why, she explained that it is an offering to one of the millions of gods they worship.

Spending time with my friends, the Shiwdat family, who are missionaries to the Hindustani of Suriname, South America, has had me pondering this idea of idols and idolatry. The people they work with came from India in the 1800’s and brought with them their millions of gods. They feverishly seek to please and appease these gods in order to be reincarnated in their next life into something or someone better than they currently are.

In my pondering, I shake my head and think about the hopelessness of that. I wonder, what life would look like if I was in their shoes?
Wondering which idol I should pray to today.
Trying to determine which one I may have offended or will offend if I don’t do the right thing.
All in the hope that I might, possibly, maybe, perhaps gain a better life somewhere in the unknown.
As I think of all that, it is easy for me to say, “Wow, I am so glad to know the One True God – and that I do not have idols to worry about!”

But even as the thought crosses my mind, I am aware of the fallacy of that statement.
I DO have idols.
Maybe not millions – but plenty that I bow to with alarming regularity.

See if you share any of mine…

1. The Friend god
Something goes wrong. I am having a bad day. Or someone says something hurtful. My first instinct is to phone a friend. Pour out my troubles. Make myself feel better. Look to them for support, encouragement, validation, understanding. And there is nothing wrong with a great friend! But they should not be my first call. If my friend – or parent – or spouse – is the one I turn to first when I am hurting, then I have put him or her in first place in my life. And that spot should be reserved for God alone. So when I am hurting, my personal rule is that I need to pray about it before I phone about it. And often, when I do that, I have less of a need to talk it over with someone else because I have already given it to the One who can give me wisdom and change my heart. He is also the One who can change the circumstances if He chooses to do so.

2. The Food god
Perhaps I should call this one the “Comfort god”. For me it is baked goods, preferably chocolate. Having a bad day? Feeling sad? Bored? Tired? Uncomfortable? Grab that sweet – it will make all the difference! Of course, it doesn’t make ALL the difference. The only difference it really makes is an addition to my waist line and something else to feel guilty about. Again, nothing wrong with great food – but when I turn to a pan of brownies – even gluten-free, dairy-free, soy-free brownies – for my comfort, I am putting them ahead of God. If I am eating them because I am hungry, because I have saved room for dessert, because I am celebrating something with a friend – fabulous. But if I am eating them to fill a hole in my heart rather than a hunger in my belly, they are an idol. For you it may be the salty/crunchy thing. Or ice cream. Or a glass of wine. Something I put in my mouth because I have an emotional need. An idol.

3. The Affirmation god
I personally am wired for people, not tasks. When I take any of those personality assessments, they come out the same way – extroverted (gaining energy from being with people) and NOT task-oriented. I care far more about the people around me than I do about the tasks that need to be done. And, since work does need to be done, I really, really want us all to have a great time getting the tasks done as we work together. Again, nothing wrong with how I am wired. But when I care more about what you think than what God thinks, my people-orientation becomes people-pleasing and it is an idol. Which leads me to…

4. The Peace god
I hate conflict. I want everyone to get along, be happy, and never, ever disagree. And again, peace-makers are good things. But peace-at-all-costs-makers are not. Being wise in what I say, how I say it, when I say it and where I say it are all good things. Shooting pot shots out via social media is not what I am talking about. Using sarcasm, a large vocabulary and some wit to tear someone to shreds is not taking a stand, either. But when God’s name, reputation or Word are being violated and I stay silent simply because I want to avoid conflict, I am not being a peace-maker, I am being an idolater. I must choose at that moment to honor Him by “speaking the Truth in love”, usually privately and usually in a calm, peaceful manner. I would rather not. But when I choose to bow to the god of “peace” rather than lovingly, thoughtfully speaking up for the Prince of Peace, I am an idolater.

And then there is the trickiest, slickest, most deceptive idol of all…

5. The Creating God in My Image god
I cannot comprehend God. He is too big, too mysterious, too completely other for me to even begin to understand. He even says that about Himself in Isaiah: “My thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are my ways your ways,” says the Lord. (Isaiah 55:8) Because of my limited comprehension, it is easy for me to remake God as I want Him to be, not as He is, as He is revealed in His Word. For example, I would like the words “God is love” to mean that sincerity is the way to heaven and that a loving God would not send anyone to hell. If I sincerely believe anything, then I can get to God – because let’s face it, I am sincere. But that is not who God has presented Himself to be in His Word. He very, very clearly states that there is ONE way to heaven and that is through putting my faith in the finished work of Jesus on the cross, believing that he died in my place and that nothing I can do is good enough to get me to God. The “is love” part comes in when I comprehend that this Way is open to everyone – from the people I consider the “worst” to those I think of as the “best”. And when I add to that the fact that God made this Way by sending His one and only Son to take my punishment, I am compelled by His love to share that! With everyone I meet. All the time. Whether it is politically correct or not.

And that is just one example. There are other things about God that I cannot comprehend or do not like and, therefore, want to change. Personally, I wouldn’t mind if He said, “Fooling around before marriage is a good thing – go for it! After all, I love you and I want you to be happy. So go find some boy-toy to make yourself happy.” But He didn’t say that. He said marriage is the only place for sex. And He said marriage is one man, one woman, until death separates the two He made one. I cannot change His Word without changing His character – and if I do, then I have re-created Him in a way I want Him to be. Which means He is not God at all. He becomes a version of Himself, a god among many. And I become the person Paul described to Timothy, the person who will inhabit the earth “in the last days”: one who is “holding to a form of [outward] godliness (religion), although they have denied its power [for their conduct nullifies their claim of faith].” (2Timothy 3, AMP) I cannot pick and choose Who God is and Him still be God. When I do, my faith becomes idolatry because I am not worshipping Him – I am worshipping myself, my version of Him.

Unfortunately, my list of idols could go on and on. And you may have a different list. Perhaps popularity drives your decisions. Or the quest for power determines your conduct in the work place. Perhaps it is about money for you – making sure you have enough, making sure you hold on to what you have. It may be self-fulfillment – pulling yourself up by your own bootstraps, making your own way in the world, buying into that verse that is not in the Bible, “God helps them that help themselves.” All idols. And we all have them. They are not usually statues for us here in the US and especially not in the Church. They are not rocks in the yard with milk poured on them. But anything that drives your thinking, your decisions, and your actions that is not God as revealed in the Bible, is an idol. And the very first commandment God gave was to “have no other gods before Me.” (Exodus 20). Or, if you prefer a New Testament verse, idols of any kind are the exact opposite of “Love the Lord your God with all your heart” (Matthew 22)

One last word of hope. You can learn to recognize your idols and to throw them down off the throne of your heart. How? By spending time in God’s Word. Daily. Seeking Him first. Asking Him to show you Himself as He is, not as you want Him to be. Asking Him to nudge you when you are practicing idolatry. And remembering that there is always forgiveness, always grace, and always strength for each new day. His mercies are new every morning; great is His faithfulness! (Lamentations 3)

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