A few years ago someone gave me a little stone statue that they had bought while traveling in another country. It was a somewhat squat figure, like a person with exaggerated features and an odd expression on the face. My first thought was that it was interesting, though not really my type of art. Then the person who gave it to me said that it was an idol from an older culture from where they had been visiting. The first two of the Ten Commandments came to mind:
“I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery
“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. You shall not bow down to them or worship them… Exodus 20: 1-5
It was awkward, but I felt I had to give it back, because we didn’t feel comfortable having an idol in our home, especially when we’d been clearly told it was an idol. I didn’t want a carved idol in my home then, and I’m certainly not in inclined to buy or carve myself a stone or wood statue to bow down to now. I don’t worship idols… or do I?
Stone statues or golden calves might be obvious idols, and it’s pretty easy to see that money or food could become idols, but it’s possible to make an idol of anything if we give it the place or power in our life that is rightfully God’s and that is only safe in God’s hands.
One common idol of our time is busyness. Not that being busy is always bad, but I think too often our busyness determines how we feel about who we are. Do we get our self-esteem, a feeling of being good or adequate or important, from being busy, rather than from the knowledge that we are created in God’s image, created to live in relationship with God and loved by him? And if we suddenly get slowed down, say by a pandemic, does our self-esteem topple?
Or what about reputation? That’s a tough one for me. I want people to like me, and I don’t think there’s anything wrong with wanting that, but what about when I let my concern about other people’s opinion determine what I do or say? Ultimately my goal and purpose is to live for God, but if I’m letting concern about my reputation determine what I do, I am making an idol of reputation. And that’s when I see that it’s only safe to give that power to God.
God made me who I am, and there’s nothing so freeing as growing into who he has made me with my unique personality and interests, and nothing so fulfilling as using my strengths and abilities to live for him. But if I give the power to determine what I do or who I am to other people, I end up becoming captive to the need to please others. That’s why I really like how the Ten Commandments start: “I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of … slavery.” God wants me to be free, but I find myself tempted in numerous ways to make an idol of something, and then I risk becoming captive to that. By his grace, though, I am becoming freer as I recognize my idols and give them up.
What idols do you see in our society or in your own life? Let’s get rid of our idols and be free!
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