Our post-modern world has much in common with the ancient world, going back even to pre-historic times; namely that both worlds, modern and ancient, have always fought a battle with idolatry. While the ancient world, with its plethora of gods and goddesses was more overt in its struggle with idolatry, the struggle in our modern world is more covert and insidious, even disavowing the very existence of the one true God while worshipping as many, if not more, idols than did the men and women of ancient times. While the ancients thought of their deities in more physical terms, depicting them with human qualities, we tend to idolize individuals, institutions and concepts. If the assertion by Owen Barfield in his book Saving the Appearances: a Study in Idolatry that “when the nature and limitations of artificial images are forgotten, they become idols” is correct, we have a very serious problem indeed.
Exhibiting a “more is better” ideology, we project upon our images excessive qualities which by far exceed their natural limitations. Consumed by a thirst for power, our government confers upon itself salvific status, enticing us to look to it for solutions to all our problems. Seeking prosperity we become consumed with the acquisition of wealth, forgetting that wealth is transitory, as those who experienced the stock market crash of 1929 or the aftermath of the recent mortgage meltdown quickly discovered. Consumed with status we strive to obtain degrees from the prestigious centers of academia; the mere physical piece of paper showing our degree having more value to us than the actual knowledge we have supposedly acquired in the process. Forgetting that the original purpose of the institutions of higher learning was to impart wisdom and knowledge, along with the tools necessary to acquire them, thus enabling people to live moral and spiritual lives in society, we have idolized academia.
Our flirtation with idols does not end there. Barfield defines idolatry “as the valuing of images or representations in the wrong way and for the wrong reasons”, thus an idol is “an image so valued.” In this light, our idolatrous worship can extent to anything, even to good things. As soon as an admired image becomes a desired object it is in danger of becoming an idol we worship. The acquisition of a beautiful wife (or successful husband), a coveted job, social status, the latest technological toys, etc. can all become sources of idolatry. For that matter, even our church can become an idol if we value it more than we do God.
Just as he refused to do in the Old Testament times, God refuses to play second fiddle today. If we are to follow him, he must be number one in our lives. If we desire anything more than him, we have already succumbed to idol worship and come under his condemnation, needing to repent and seek his forgiveness. There is not other way.
Because the temptations are often strong, it is important to do a reality check from time to time, examining whether or not we are in danger of creating idols. If we find that there are certain things that we dwell upon more than God, we may be guilty of idol worship. If the trust we place in things far surpasses their limitations or we glamorize them, we are likely idolizing them. If we look to society or government for all the answers to our problems, we will find that we are guilty. Ask yourself the question: Who do I really worship – God or something else?