I’m starting a new series that have been rolling around in my head for a few months. On a random Sunday morning, during a sermon unrelated to this topic, a spark was lit in my mind which has been growing into a blaze ever since. (I know. It’s disturbing how many fire metaphors climb into what I write.)
I want to spend some time talking about the idols held dear to the heart of people like me, white middle-class Protestant American Christians. Idols I have cherished myself. Idols that I didn’t realize were idols at the time. I suppose it’s a good idea to start with a question: what’s an idol?
I am the Lord your God, who rescued you from the land of Egypt, the place of your slavery. You must not have any other god but me. You must not make for yourself an idol of any kind or an image of anything in the heavens or on the earth or in the sea. You must not bow down to them or worship them, for I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God who will not tolerate your affection for any other gods.
Exodus 20:2-5, NLT
This is the opening of the ten commandments. We get a picture of a God who wants an exclusive relationship, who loves us and wants us to love him back.
That God himself, speaking in the first person, starts the commandments with this is important. It’s more than just a statement of his own Godship, it’s an important reminder we shouldn’t take him for granted. Idols stand in front of God. We may not bow to them and chant, but we give our lives to them nonetheless.
Where we can go off the path is in thinking that an idol has to look like the totem pole I used in the image at the top. (Disclaimer: I realize totems aren’t necessarily idols, but it looked cool and the image was free, so cut me some slack.) Unfortunately, in our modern / postmodern setting, they never look like that. If they did, we could see them coming. We would run away as fast as we could.
There is emptiness in us that is meant to be filled with God. This can be easily forgotten, as God does not sit across from us at the dinner table and eat a burger, kick back and tell us how his day at work was. Not like our human friends do, at least. Despite that, we have emptiness that he claims as his own home, but it’s very easy to look at things which we can control and love them more than a God we can’t.
Idolatry is sneaky. We typically think of the stuff we should avoid to follow Christ. Ancient Roman excesses like orgies, ancient pagan rituals like worshiping trees and rocks. Sleeping around. Stuff that’s obvious, stuff that gets preached about a lot. What we don’t see coming are the good things, the things that are genuinely harmless on their face.
This is what I want to talk about. There are good things to be found in the world, and I don’t want to induce some paranoid notion that we should all become monks and flee society. Christ is desperately needed there, and we can be the ones to bring him in the midst. We must allow Christ to relieve us of the, “weight that slows us down, especially the sin that so easily trips us up” (Hebrews 12:1). I don’t think this will be a familiar list. Porn, drinking, swearing and murder all need to be abolished from our lives, but I’d like to talk about a slightly different list. A more subtle list. A more personal list.
I want to talk about things we love, things that we find important. Maybe things that we consider spiritual. Things that we can put before God and feel good doing it. But we shouldn’t.