It seems weird to talk about idols in this day and age. Idols make me think of chubby potbellied statues, or golden calves like in Exodus. Or that singing show on TV. I’ve had to ponder what modern-day idols look like. And I’ve found that they look exactly like a lot of the things I hold close to my chest. In our No Other Gods Bible study, the ladies and I asked ourselves, How can we, as Christ-followers who want to believe He’s the only one who can help us, recognize the pull of lesser gods? Here are three red flags:
In 1 Samuel 8, the God-ruled nation of Israel hit a turning point when they asked God for a king so “we can be like all the other nations.” God granted their request, but warned them they wouldn’t like it. There’s one word He repeated: take. Kings would take from them: their possessions, their loved ones, their freedom. Over and over.
Idols take. That thing you want, that person, job, situation, money, status, neighborhood, education, lifestyle, political candidate… which has become the thing you’ll do anything for, will end up taking from you. What kinds of idols do we follow so we can fit into the image we have of ourselves? What parts of ourselves have we given up so we can have what we think we want? And at what cost to our peace of mind, health and happiness?
If there’s something that’s taking from you to a relentless degree, it might be an idol. This isn’t the same as being tired from the responsibilities of life. You might have an idol if you end every day drained. Living in fear or worry. Worn out from managing the thing that’s supposedly holding you together.
The story of Sarah and Hagar (Genesis 29) illustrates our human tendency to take matters into our own hands to ensure things will turn out the way we want. If there’s an area of our lives which we’re chronically managing, it might be a sign that there’s an idol behind the frantic plate-juggling. For example, as the parent of young adults, it would be all too easy to think I’m still responsible for them. Instead of letting them go, as I’ve had to do, I could micromanage and claim I was just trying to “make them happy.” But this wouldn’t really be about their happiness; it would be about my need to ensure they made the “right” choices (i.e. the choices I wanted them to make).
Trying to fix other people’s problems or control their lives is a sign of something gone wrong inside ourselves. I believe at its base is a lack of trust. We don’t trust people to manage their affairs in the way we think they should. We think any poor behavior on their part is a poor reflection of our influence. We work hard to make sure everything turns out well. We don’t trust God to take care of it all. So we meddle and control, and end up alienating the very people we think we’re helping.
Unquenchable Need for Answers
All of us have had painful things happen. And all of us have asked God why. It’s part of our nature to question Him, and it’s ok to do so. But we don’t always get satisfactory answers, and when our need to have answers becomes something we can’t let go of, this need has become an idol.
There’s a difference between wrestling with God and fighting with Him. Wrestling is our normal human capacity to question things; fighting is our inability to trust Him for outcomes. Isaiah 59:9 captures this hopelessness of thinking:
Therefore justice is far from us, nor does righteousness overtake us;
We look for light, but there is darkness,
For brightness, but we walk in blackness!
How can you know if your struggle for answers is wrestling, or fighting? I believe one way is to look for the fruit of the struggle. Has it brought you more or less trust? More peace, or less? Are you able to let the issue die, or are you driven to seek retribution? Are you able to forgive? Have you taken control of outcomes, or are you able to leave that in God’s hands? Have you put your faith in something you think will give you answers (politics, better health, other people you think can help you)?
We have a God who sees all our struggles. Isaiah 59:15b-16 says:
The Lord saw, and it displeased Him that there was no justice.
Therefore His own arm brought salvation for him,
And His own righteousness sustained him.
These three red flags illustrate ways in which we mistrust the Lord. But I’m learning that, unlike my idols, God gives. He has a plan and purpose for me. And He does have the answers even if I don’t yet know what those answers are.
One of my favorite scriptures is Psalm 68:19: Blessed be the Lord, who daily loads us with benefits, the God of our Salvation! I love to picture God with a huge shiny shovel, ready to pour a great heap of help, salvation, peace, and joy over us every day, if we let Him.