Idols. Idolatry. Idol worship. Many of us hear idol worship or idol worshipper and think “killers” like GH’s Kyeiwaa or Naija’s Kanayo O. Kanayo- people who visit the African movie type of shrines, who are on a first-name basis with fetish priests or who have weird looking statues and objects that they recite incantations in front of in their homes.
It’s easy to think that one could not be guilty of idolatry because of how averse our world and the people in it have become to anything regarding faith or the supernatural.
[Ironic, though, how the movies we so favour are mostly about alternate universes and other dimensions] On the flip side also, there’s the tendency to think that because one is “religious“, being idolatrous is impossible. Basically, a lot of people think being or not being religious precludes idolatry.
Anyway. Idols. I suppose we ought to begin by determining what an idol is. For that, I think 1 John 5:21 works really well.
NIV says: Dear children, keep yourselves from idols. Amen.
NKJV says: Little children, keep yourselves from idols. Amen.
NLT says: Dear children, keep away from anything that might take God’s place in your hearts.
If we were to go by substituting the word “idols” in NIV and in most other versions with the expression as used in NLT, then an idol would be anything that might take God’s place in your hearts… and it’s clear how much this definition of what an idol is really opens up the circle of who an idolater really is.
The next step of questioning would then be about what some of the things that might take the place of God might be. I’m going to leave this for you to answer honestly for yourself. But do this with the consciousness and realization that God must have a place uniquely His in your heart and in your life as LORD [the Master whom you serve], as King [to whom you owe TOTAL allegiance], and as God [who ALONE is deserving of worship]. Absolutes.
In the 10 Commandments, we are warned about idols. Twice.
“You shall have no other gods before Me. You shall not make for yourself an image in the form of anything in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the waters below.” Exodus 20:3-4; Deuteronomy 5:7-8 NIV
I think that there are two categories expressed here of how idols come to be: the having of idols/gods and the making of idols/gods.
The having might be an unconscious thing – the Strong’s Hebrew dictionary explains the actual sense of the word as follows:
So the having might be unconscious, possibly sneaking up on a person. Here, it could be something really good out of which an idol comes to be, or something innocent that metamorphoses into an idol. For instance, many of us have at least one mobile device. Could that BECOME (like Strong’s defines “shall have”) an idol? Again, we know that God most desires a personal relationship with His children, what is it that gets in the way of that? Your “work” for Him? Has that become so consuming that it actually takes the place of any time you could have with God? If that is the case, you’ve got yourself an idol.
Then there is the making of idols. This seems like the more intentional form of bringing idols into existence– where we actually put in effort to create the thing that takes the place of God in our lives. For example, an ungodly relationship that you entered and persist in staying in because you feel like it’s everything to you and you can’t live without the person or that relationship.
We live in interesting times. In our day, idols are not creepy-looking, monstrous statues with awkward features; some of them are everyday items we see and use and maybe even need, others are things we desire to the exclusion of all else. The point is that the potential idols of our time may be difficult to even identify without the Holy Spirit’s prompting and our sensitivity to His prompting about them. Whether one is guilty of making or having idols is not the main issue; the real issue is that they exist in a person’s life and they [can and will] destroy.
May God give us wisdom to steer clear of both – having and/or making idols.
The danger of idolatry.
Often in the Bible, the warning to flee is given for things/situations that have the potential to not only ensnare but also keep one trapped – sexual immorality [1 Corinthians 6:18], youthful passions [2 Timothy 2:22], etc.
Idolatry is one of those things meriting the instruction to flee. 1 Corinthians 10:14 NIV says:
“Therefore, my dear friends, flee from idolatry.”
What is the danger of idolatry?
In one word: WORTHLESSNESS.
2 Kings 17:15 NIV: They rejected His decrees and the covenant He had made with their ancestors and the statutes He had warned them to keep. They followed worthless idols and themselves became worthless. They imitated the nations around them although the Lord had ordered them, “Do not do as they do.”
Jeremiah 2:5 NIV: This is what the Lord says: “What fault did your ancestors find in Me, that they strayed so far from me? They followed worthless idols and became worthless themselves.”
Psalm 115:8 NIV: Those who make them will be like them, and so will all who trust in them.
“They followed worthless idols and themselves became worthless.”
Why? Because in idolatry we lose the primary purpose for which we were brought into this world which is to worship God. The truth is that anything that doesn’t serve its purpose is, for all intents and purposes, worthless.
So it is with men who refuse to worship God; they are unable to find meaning in anything else because the very thing that would bring meaning into their lives [and help them experience their true worth] is what they are so averse to doing.
It is this worthlessness, and the feeling of it, that pushes some people to do all they can to make themselves feel worthy especially and very often by amassing wealth [which invariably fails for the simple reason that we weren’t brought here – into this world – just for money, otherwise it would count in eternity and we would take it with us into eternity].
It is this same worthlessness that is able to drive some to suicide [once they realize, painfully, that these things – money, sex, power (in political, academic or social circles) – don’t satisfy, regardless of the sheer quantity or volume of any number of them in a person’s life.
I realize by now you might be sick of reading the word “idol” – but if in the span of the few minutes it took to read this, you’re sick of just seeing the word, try to imagine how God feels seeing the idol itself and the act of something so unworthy being elevated above Him.
By the way, it’s worth noting that throughout the Bible it appears that idolatry is the main reason God’s wrath is expressed.
We are not worthless. We don’t have to be worthless. We don’t have to make ourselves worthless. We were created in the image of the Great Creator of the universe and He calls us His own. There is no reason to succumb to the appeal of anything that will make us worthless, especially to the One who made us.
Our value is in our worship – and those who worship and serve the LORD [and Him alone] are the real MVPs.