I debated talking about American Idols in this post. Not the show American Idol, but the idols that we Americans worship, no matter if we are Christians or not. Money, consumerism, material things.
I think it is important to mention those, but I’ve talked a lot about them already. Might there be other forms of idolatry that we need to think about. Admittedly, idolatry can be a bit confusing. We American Christians aren’t tempted, for the most part, to offer sacrifices in pagan temples to false gods made of stone, wood, clay or metal. In our area, those kinds of temples are pretty much non-existent. So when we hear Paul talk about idolatry, as we did in this past Sunday’s sermon from 1 Corinthians 10:14-22, it can be kind of hard to identify with.
What comes to your mind when you think of idols in our culture? Do you know if you yourself worship an idol? I posed this question to some of my pastor friends this week, and I got a number of great responses.
We start with a definition of idolatry. When you can’t point to a statue in a temple and say “That! There is an idol”, you have to look at the principle of idolatry. Idolatry can be a concept and idea, as much as it is a physical statue. One pastor said this: idolatry is so often “When a good thing becomes a god thing, that’s a bad thing”. I didn’t make that up. Can’t take credit for it. But I like it.
There are so many things in our lives that God has blessed us with that are good things. But those things can become gods to us. Lower-case g. False gods.
That pastor said that they knew someone who had idolize movies. Movies are a very good thing. But someone could start to expect more of those movies than they should. They can go to the movies to escape life. The big screen (or better yet IMAX!), exciting filming, intense music, great stories and acting all come together to give you a wonderful feeling. The experience of seeing a movie can be so cool. But we can start to expect more out of a movie than what we should expect. We can put movie in a place of God. For example, we can want it to ease the pain of life, take us away to another place. And for a moment in time it does. But the credits roll, the lights come up, and we walk out of the theater, the experience over, with an empty feeling that slowly seeps back in. We’ve made a god out of the experience. That is Idolatry.
We should be participating with Christ and Christ alone. We should be finding our fulfillment in him alone!
Another pastor friend said: “The Bible, worship service, family, I realize these are all counter intuitive and in and of themselves are not idols but they can become idols when they are substituted for trust in and obedience to Jesus.” That one led to some lengthy discussion in our sermon discussion group! But all those good things can become god things, and that is a bad thing. How can the Bible become idolatry, you ask? Good question. Think about it this way: the Pharisees in Jesus’ day would say that they were dedicated followers of the Bible (the Old Testament for them). But Jesus confronted them strongly, and said repeatedly that they were way off base. Why? Because they worshipped a Bible of their own making. How many times did Jesus say things like “Guys! Do you read the Bible? How is it that you don’t know what it says?” Pretty harsh, but true, words to the religious elite who were supposed to know the Bible inside and out. Instead they were following something that they called the Bible, and maybe that they even thought was the actual Bible, but, as Jesus pointed out, wasn’t anything like the Bible. They idolized their own version. Can you think how we evangelical Christians do something like this in our day? At sermon discussion what came up was Sabbath rules, like forbidding mowing the lawn on Sunday. There are many other more serious examples we could point to, examples of so-called doctrines that Christians are taught to be adamant about, but are not justified when doing serious study of Scripture. I think it would be very helpful to talk more about this, so please feel free to comment.
Another pastor friend said: “The greatest idol is the one looking back at us in the mirror. As long as we keep saying things like “God has a perfect plan for MY life”, the idol gains more power. Once in control, it won’t allow us to even consider the wisdom of humility, repentance, and sacrifice for something so much bigger than “me”. The idol in the mirror must die.”
For me, exercise and body image easily could become an idol. We see pictures all the time, on TV, online, of people with perfectly toned bodies. Here’s where the crazy comes out. I actually had this thought the other day…I have a pouch down there on my belly. I started working out in late 2009, and while I lost a lot of weight, I have done sit-ups days upon days and the pouch remains. It is frustrating, but to be honest, I know what it will take to get rid of it. I read an article about Hollywood actors who get toned in a short period of time. You know what I mean: the ladies who have a baby and three weeks later it looks like they were never pregnant? How do they do it? The article interviewed a famous Hollywood trainer who said, it’s simple…kinda: just work out hard 3 hours per day, eat 2000 calories or less per day, and sleep 10 hours per day. In other words, your full-time job needs to be getting in shape. Who has that time though? If I tried that now, it would be easy to see how a good thing became a god thing and that’s a bad thing.
Watch the crazy come come out: so I thought, what if I took a sabbatical to do this? Our denomination suggests that churches give pastors sabbaticals…
But before you start to think that I seriously entertained that suggestion, a sabbatical so I get ripped abs, you see just how quickly a good thing becomes a bad thing in our minds.
What about you? Have you let anything take the place of God in your life?