What do you think are some American idols?
Sex and money are probably the first that come to mind, and for good reason. Next in line and perhaps more tempting for some people are two potential idols related to money, and that is materialism and consumerism. Love of money, Paul writes, is the root of all evil. It relates to a hunger for luxury, comfort and entertainment. Retirement is another. Note that Paul says it our heart desire that leads to idolatry. We do not have to be rich to idolize these things. In fact, the inability to experience something just might make us desire it more, to idolize it more.
But what other potential idols tempt us?
There are also some possible idols in areas that might seem like they are good things. Health and family. Idolizing family can be a bit of a tough one to understand. Isn’t it good to be committed to family? Yes, absolutely. But can we take it too far. If our family gets in the way of God’s Kingdom, we can start to abandon our participation in God’s Kingdom in favor of our family. God’s Kingdom must always be our priority. It seems to me that most of the ways we lovingly support our families will be in line with the goals of the Kingdom. But we would do well to look out for those times when the Kingdom and family might be in conflict. In those situations, we should choose Kingdom. I have watched people leave a church because they thought another church would have more programs for their family. In what seems like a move to support their family in a God-honoring way, I suspect they at least partially succumbed to idolizing their family at the expense of pursuing the Kingdom. What would have been better, in my opinion, would be for them to stay at their church and teach their kids the important lesson that their kids are not the center of the universe, but Jesus is. In so doing they could work together with the church family to support the discipleship of their family.
Health can also be difficult to think of as an idol. God wants us to experience good health, and he is a God of healing, but in our society, we can take it to an extreme. Constant dieting, exercising, or medicating, with a strong desire to be perfectly healthy. This is fueled by a media culture which often shows us images of health or medical products promising health. Cancer surgeon Atul Gawande, in his book Being Mortal, admits that the medical industry, and especially practitioners in his own field of cancer surgery, can be guilty of making promises they cannot keep. For example, they will tell a cancer patient that they can be healed, when the surgeon knows that the chances are more like hitting the lottery jackpot. But in addition to being sold unrealistic promises of modern medicine, and in spite of the real amazing miracle of so much of modern medicine, we can choose to idolize health, rather than have a balanced view of the aging process.
Very much related to this is the area of image (body, online, or reputation). We can idolize an image of ourselves, an image that we want people to believe is true. That we are successful, that we are happy, that we are advancing. During Covid I put on a good 10-15 pounds, and I can see it in the mirror. Believe it or not, thinking about that can occupy my thoughts. I can fixate on it. How about you? Does that resonate?
Same goes for social issues and politics. We can scroll through our newsfeeds, read books, articles, and watch videos seemingly nonstop about politics. We can get fire-breathing mad about it. Since we just had the Fourth of July, there were loads of articles about how patriotism and nationalism can be idols. We worship God and God alone. Not a nation, not a flag, not even an idea of a nation. We worship only Jesus, and we are citizens of his Kingdom. Our citizenship in an earthly country is temporary and falls to a distant second place behind our citizenship to the Kingdom. That’s why we don’t sing patriotic songs in worship, and why we don’t pledge allegiance to a national flag in worship. We Christians pledge our allegiance only to God.
Then there are sports. I heard the story about a golf outing one of our church family was on recently, in which they were put in a foursome with people they did not previously know. One of those persons got so passionate about their game, or rather their poor game, that at the 17th hole, they threw their putter and golf ball across the green into the adjacent forest, cursing, and screaming, “I done with this _____ game! I’m going home!” Have you ever gotten inappropriately passionate about sports? Maybe even just watching them on TV? We can spend inordinate amounts of time, money and emotion on our favorite sports team. How does that compare to the passion we give to worshiping God?
One of the idols that I have been wrestling with in my life is time on my cell phone. A cell phone in and of itself is a tool. It is great for communication, taking photos, and managing other aspects of life. Cell phones have amazing capabilities. But they can become idols. Each week mine gives me a screen time report, and I can become very embarrassed at the amount of hours I spend on it playing games, watching funny videos, sports videos, and reading the news. Social media can be such a time waster.
But will I change? How about you? What idols tempt you? What aspects of life in America do you give your life to?