All the heroes and legends I knew as a child have turned into idols of clay. - Styx
The dearest idol I have known,
Whate’er that idol be
Help me to tear it from Thy throne,
And worship only Thee.
- William Cowper
When I was growing up, I heard stories about how the Israelites were always bowing down to these idols. I guess for the most part, I figured these idols were some big carvings or statues made of stone and metal and stuff. I also heard about how God said we're not supposed to worship them.
I thought the Israelites were pretty dumb for doing these things and, since I was a kid and didn't really have a whole bunch of scrap metal lying around and didn't have money to go buy a ready-made idol, I figured was pretty safe from the whole idolatry thing. That's one sin I can go ahead and check off.
We bow down to idols all the time.
I just recently realized that I'd been bowing down at the altar of pleasing people. It seems like a pretty good thing, especially if you're raised Southern Baptist. They love to be caught on their best behavior and have people like the things they do. If people don't like the things they do, they make sure and pick a fight with them so they show everyone else how mean and crazy they are for not liking them. I figured that's what God really wanted out of me. Good behavior and likability.
Actually, it was an idol that I was worshiping. I worshiped it every day of my life, except for a few minutes here and there when I knew nobody was watching.
This idol had a stronghold deep inside me. But it was nothing more than a God substitute. It left me cold and empty. It failed me all the time. Idols always do.
The more committed I was to pleasing people, the more shame I felt every time I didn't do a good enough job and displeased my idol. After time, it left me worrying more and more about the next time my idol was going to let me down. Idols breed guilt and anxiety.
It also made me repressed, I think.
I knew a lot of people growing up, mostly homeschooling parents, who idolized their children. Or maybe their idol was being good parents. Either way, their life was consumed with these kids, trying to never let them experience pain or feel sad or want for anything. Later on, when these kids hit reality and started doing all kids of distasteful things, their parents completely crumbled.
I am close to some people that idolize financial security. The thought of their stocks crashing sends crushing waves of anxiety. Watching their 401K go up and down consumes them in worry.
Other people idolize their health.
Or how about their country. People sing worship songs to the U.S. all the time. They never miss a tithe. If you're interested, here's where you can buy their book.
Idols can be any number of legitimate things like relationships, marriages, food, sex, good behavior...whatever.
A really bad thing about idols is that they keep us from meeting God. They keep us either in our future or our past, writhing in guilt over times our idols failed us, or they keep us up at night, terrified of the next time our idols fail us.
If I am actually worshiping the one true and living God instead of substitutes, I don't need to feel shame and anxiety. Jesus' love covers my past and gives me hope for the future.
I had a professor who used to say all the time that everybody worships. Pretty true.