When Something Becomes an Idol
We shun the practice of bowing before sculptured idols and leaving some payment or tribute. We know there is no heartbeat in a statue, no leadership in marble, no love in a stiff, unmoving form. We like to skip what Jeremiah says:
They followed worthless idols and became worthless themselves. Jeremiah 2:5
We don't believe in worshiping idols.
But what of the space we reserve in our hearts for what we want out of this life, what we believe we have a right to pursue? What prices in time, energy, planning, or focus are we willing to pay for such pursuits?
I’ve been doing my own self-examination and found that, yes, I have carried an idol into this season of life. In the rebuilding of my life from the bottom up, I filled in some of my life blanks with what I said I must have to enjoy this next part of life. I argued that it was just part of the rebuilding process that kept me on edge and feeling somewhat desperate. It wasn’t a rebellious plan, but it was a wayward one, self-willed from the beginning. In my heart, it was an idol because it drove everything I thought about. It made me feel the acute loss of what I didn’t have so that I redoubled my efforts without productive results.
God has been helping me see the worthless result of chasing my idol-want. To the best of my ability I have resubmitted this season of life as a new blank slate for God to write on. And He is writing. And I am much more content.
Tim Keller, founding pastor of Redeemer Presbyterian Church, New York where 5,000 worship weekly, asks these questions to help discern whether we have idols:
What do you worry about most?
What preoccupies the most of your thoughts?
What do you want to make sure people know about you?
How do you feel when they don’t know it?
Idols are self-determined goals or desires that become our task master. They make us slaves and trap us into thinking that without them, we are much less than we would be with them. They are at odds with everything Christ died to save us from: entrapment from pursuits that makes us less free than God’s desire for us.
Often, it’s not the bad things we run after; it’s the good things and the way we skew our thinking to believe that they, in themselves, will give us what we want and need. That’s the substitution: when we believe that any pursuit will give us more than God, we have a worthless idol.
The answer is not to throw away the goal, the dream, the deep-rooted desire or even to try to convince yourself you could live without it. The answer is to submit it, hands off, palms down. We know when we have done the work of submission when we can say to God that it is okay if He doesn’t give it back because we know that what He gives instead will fulfill and complete us better.