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The Problem with Idols


There are multiple (and I mean multiple!) texts within Scripture that discuss the dangers and problems that idols create in life. For brevity sake, I want to take a moment and point out two of the more obvious ones.

The first is based on Psalm 115:8, which reads, “And those who make idols are just like them, as are all who trust in them” (NLT). The point is obvious: you become like the object of your worship. That’s either really good news or really bad news. If God is the exclusive object of our worship, we will increase in our likeness of him. Good news, right? But if God is not the object of our worship, then we spiral downward and get stuck in a pattern of reductionism. Idols don’t elevate anyone to reach their potential, which is fulfilling the image of God that lies within.

A second problem with idols is that God views it as spiritual adultery. The Old Testament prophets, for example, used adultery to describe Israel’s spiritual condition resulting from years of idolatry. One cannot help but read the book of Hosea and draw a word of warning from the metaphor of adultery that he presented to the people of God.

The first and second commandments (Exodus 20:3-5) remind the faithful that God is a jealous God. In my ministry I’ve spent more time than I’d care to think about talking with Christians who struggle with jealousy. Sometimes there is jealousy over a friendship. Other times its over a spouse’s friend or co-worker who happens to be a member of the opposite sex. I’ve even had a few conversations with husbands who struggle to adapt to the new baby in the household that shifts marital dynamics. As I reflect on those talks, it seems that there are two major reasons people are afflicted with jealousy. One is simply insecurity. When a person is insecure within himself or herself, jealousy is usually not far away. A second reason, however, that people are jealous is that they have just cause. In other words, the other person in the relationship, whether it be spouse or friend, acts in a manner that creates jealousy.

I don’t think God is jealous because he’s insecure. To think about an “insecure God” is frankly preposterous! Yet God is provoked to jealousy when we seek fulfillment, satisfaction and gratification from other sources. When we change direction and focus our worship on other objects, God’s jealousy is aroused. He demands exclusivity in his worship.

Sometimes I wonder if the reason that connecting with God feels like so much work is an indication that we have set up idols in our lives. Remember, God doesn’t enter bidding wars for our affection and devotion. As in Romans 1, when we give in to idols and give ourselves up to them, God will give us over to them.

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