A child once asked her Sunday School teacher “What is an idol?” Her teacher replied that it was an image of God and recited the commandment: “You shall not make unto me a graven image.” While this may be technically correct, there is much more to idols. The worship of an idol is a deviation from the pure worship of God. Many times it begins as a temptation or seduction. We begin to give more thought and attention to something other than God. This eventually leads to the worship of a false god. We create a distorted image of God that will replace him.
Idols come in many different forms and shapes. The temptations we face today are really no different than the temptations faced by the ancient Israelites. They merely have new faces. But the false gods of today are much the same as in ancient times. Ancient Israel struggled with the worship of fertility gods. These were thought to provide power and economic prosperity to the worshipper. Worshipping them was also thought to be a way of manipulating the gods. It is not that different today when we struggle with the temptation to covet power, status and prosperity.
What are some of the modern gods that we find so alluring? Our jobs can become our god. This can happen when we spend all of our time either at or thinking about work to the neglect of our families and friends. Another tempting god is the accumulation of wealth and the status it brings us. Yet another is the achievement of power, often at the expense of others. It can also be our possessions. Our god can be our spouse or our children. One man regretfully told me that he had married his beautiful, but now ex wife, to be a showpiece of his status. Having a gorgeous spouse had become his god. Parents who try to live their lives through their children effectively fashion gods out of them. This often takes the form of sports where parents push their children into participation. They vicariously participate through their children and become obsessed with their winning. For others sex can become their god. Education, cars, our homes etc. can also highlight the list. Many more examples could be given. They all have one thing in common. Each can easily, seductively, lead us away from the true worship of God. Each can lead us to the worship of a false god – one that we don’t even think of as a god as all. That is the danger we face – not recognizing these things as gods.
Most of these false gods come to us as selfish motives. We want something more than we desire God himself. It may begin simply as a wish or a thought, but eventually end up as an obsession. Our desire can become so great that we are willing to even compromise our standards to achieve it. We may even violate our own consciences to obtain it. We numb them to the point that we don’t even realize we have violated them. When this happens we have transferred our worship to a false god. We have made the objects of our desires into idols. Unfortunately, in the process, we also lose our own souls. As we examine our lives, we each must ask ourselves “What idols have I placed upon a pedestal that I am worshipping? What false gods am I tempted to worship?”