Nobody worships idols anymore....right? Idols may have been common thousands of years ago, and you can see them in museums, but they no longer exist in the civilized world...or do they?
Part of the reason many people believe no one, especially themselves, worships idols, is that they have their own definition for what an idol is or what it means to worship an idol. And all our definitions conveniently leave out anything we do that might be considered idolatry.
So what is an idol? The dictionary states an idol is, “an image or representation of a god used as an object of worship. A person or thing that is greatly admired, loved, or revered.” And worshiping does not mean you only bow down to it; if you greatly admire, prioritize and revere it, that’s worshiping too. If you have items in your life that you talk to, like your car or gun, that’s not a good sign. Do we worship idols?
The second commandment in Exodus 20: 4-6 states, “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; for I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God, punishing the children for the sin of the parents to the third and fourth generation of those who hate me, but showing love to a thousand generations of those who love me and keep my commandments.”
This commandment not only impacts our spiritual status, but also impacts our children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren! That’s serious! This commandment by God deserves reflection and prayer.
Historically, the church has had difficulty with this command. In 736, Emperor Leo III commanded that all paintings, statues, and icons be destroyed. This movement was known as iconoclasm. About 50 years later, many church leaders said these items were acceptable, and then in 815 Leo V said they weren’t, and then Empress Thedora decades later said they were.
The reason priests and Christians were using them is that few could read! Books were expensive and images helped educate people about Bible stories, truths, and characters. But some people saw these images as divine and prayed to the image or believed their icons had divine power, and that’s idolatry. This helps explain why some people liked them and some hated them.
It is interesting to me that the second commandment is so specific regarding how idolatry will continue on into the third and fourth generation. My guess is that the idols in our life, the things we believe we can not do without, have a lot to do with the idols our parents and grandparents treasured and revered. We sometimes justify our idolatry because of their idolatry. Breaking up with idols is hard to do.
Christians today struggle with idolatry in many ways. Money, and power, and sex, oh my, can all become idols. Our sports heroes, musical stars, Hollywood actors, and politicians can become idols. Our cars, collections and guns can become idols. Our country and occupations can become idols. Our children, grandchildren, and parents can become idols. Even our church buildings can become idols.
One way to figure out if something has become an idol in your life is to ask yourself if you could do without it and be okay. If life took away anything I listed above, would you still be at peace with yourself and God? I am not saying you wouldn’t be upset, but would you ultimately be able to give it up, to no longer have it? Psalm 62:5 says, “I depend on God alone; I put my hope in Him.”
Rev. Chris Fuller is pastor of Russellville Baptist Church, 111 Russellville Road, Forsyth. The Pastor’s Corner is sponsored by the Monroe County Ministerial Association, which meets on the second Thursday of each month at 8:30 a.m. at Christ United Methodist Church, 417 N. Frontage Road, Forsyth.