The Irony of Idolatry

Living Stones Churches has just started the “Who Do You Think You Are?” series, where we will be discussing what it means to find our identity in Christ.

When we don't find our identity in Christ, we become idolaters.  And the idols we worship have a lot of power over us. They dictate how we act, spend our time and money, and even how we sleep.

But here's the irony of the situation: we give our idols their power over us.

Or, to put it another way, we get imprisoned by our idols, but this prison is locked from the inside.

For example, we don’t actually worship money for what it is.  It’s only green paper with pictures of wig toting dead guys that carries more diseases than a sewer.  If you were alone on an island the only thing money could do for you is this:

Instead, we worship money because of what our heart believes it will provide for us (security, ego, self-worth, stuff).  But if the unmet desire for these things is met in Jesus, then money loses its power as an idol and can be enjoyed as currency, not because we've given it supremacy.

Want a biblical example?  The Ancient Israelites were no different than us.  Throughout the Old Testament we see them getting entangled with Baal, who was a weather god associated with thunderstorms (Judges 2:11).  There are also a slew of adorable little Baal Jr.’s that "reigned" over various locales (like "Baal Sparks," or "Baal Elko").

You may think that bowing down to Baal is stupid and primitive, but did I mention that Baal also provided fertility, so illicit sex was an act of worship?

So Baal's power came through the belief that he could provide the things that the people's hearts desired (such as heirs and crops).  This is what Satan exploits.  When Satan tempts Jesus in the desert, he shows him the splendor of all the kingdoms of the world and says, “All this I will give to you... if you will bow down and worship me.” (Matt. 4:9)  This is exactly how all of our modern idols work. When facing similar temptations, we bow down and worship a created thing because we believe it will give us what our sinful hearts want, just as Satan falsely promises.

We desire pleasure, so we bow down to drugs.  (In another example of idol irony, the drug user's pursuit of pleasure ultimately leads to discomfort, whether it is as minor as a hangover or as major as a heart attack).

But illegal pills and plants are easy to pick on.  What about something small that we all experience everyday, like facebook?

Yes, even something as stupid as facebook can become an idol when you believe that it can reward your deep desire for fame, acceptance, status, etc.  Facebook offers a platform for others to notice you, and if this desire to be noticed is tethered to the core of your being then facebook can join your pantheon of created gods.

But the quest for fame gets lost as others shoot out their news at the same velocity. You’re out there for the world to see - but so are a billion other people.  So you check over and over to count your “likes,” compare them to other people’s, and lament when they are more popular than you.

Facebook may be relatively new in human history, but the empty promises it makes to your soul are as old as the wheel.

I could go on with a list of idols, but I'll jump straight to the worst of them all - making an idol out of the true God.

Are you wondering how this is even possible?  Allow me to explain.  When we worship God for anything other than who He is and what he has done, we essentially make a God-esque idol.  This idol, like all the others, is impotent.

This form of idolatry is evidenced when we get mad at God because we are still single, poor, unsuccessful, sick, and/or ugly.  This is especially evidenced when people leave the faith because God has not provided them what they want or isn't "there" for them.

When we do this we craft a God that is nothing more than Baal, and worship him only because he gives us the “rain” and “fertility” our hearts crave.  When those things don’t come, we toss him out like a statue.  

The supreme irony here is that we think we’re worshipping God when in fact we are worshipping an idol.  Thus, we break Commandment 2 (Exodus 20:4) when we think we are obeying Commandment 1 (Exodus 20:3).

It’s embarrassing to admit, but this is my #1 idol.  I make God my vending machine, and I get livid when I press C5 and the freaking Snickers does not drop!  My reasoning is simple: God is in control of all things, therefore, worshipping him will lead to me receiving all the things that I want. But when this dream crashes, I get peeved.

"The difference between an idol and God is that God is to be worshipped because of who He is, not what we want from him.  Idols flip the order."

Are you familiar with the Dagon story (1 Sam. 5:1-5)?  In it, God shows that he does to idols what Alabama did to Notre Dame.

After a winning battle against Israel, the Philistines capture the Ark of the Covenant (a typological foreshadowing of Jesus, who became the perfect carrier of the covenant) and place it in their temple next to their "mighty" god Dagon.  But when they wake up the next day, Dagon is face down on the ground.  Thinking nothing of it, they pick Dagon up and put him back in place.  But the next morning they find Dagon face down again - this time with his head and his hands severed.  Dagon is now nothing but a stump, and the Ark is still sitting there majestically.

Jesus does this to every idol ever.

If our heart’s desire for things like acceptance, pleasure, value, purpose, etc. is truly satisfied by Jesus, then any and every idol loses its power over you.  You can’t really be tempted to worship a created thing for something you don’t desperately want or need (like bowing down to the Baal gnome so it will rain on your vegetables).

So ask God to reveal to you what your heart is actually craving, and how Jesus actually fulfills that need.  If Jesus is truly your king, then your idols will become nothing but stumps.

Like Dagon.