21stCenturyIdolatry

Understanding Idolatry in the 21st Century

Idolatry is something that all peoples have struggled with for centuries. While the worship of idols has been a part of many cultures of the world, the people of God have not done well either in this important area. The purpose of this paper is to understand some of the core issues of idolatry as well as why this issue continues to impact the people of God today as much as in the days of old.

The Scriptures address idolatry many times beginning with the Ten Commandments in Exodus 20:4 (also seen in Deuteronomy 5:8) where we read:

Exodus 20:4 “You shall not make for yourself an idol in the form of anything in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the waters below.”

Some view this second commandment as an extension of the first commandment, which reads:

Exodus 20:3 “You shall have no other gods before me.”

Early in God’s relationship with His people, He makes it clear that He is looking for an exclusive relationship that would exclude all other parties. Israel starts off on that track but it only takes 12 chapters and Israel is out of sync with God’s expectation.

Exodus 32:4 He took what they handed him and made it into an idol cast in the shape of a calf, fashioning it with a tool. Then they said, “These are your gods, O Israel, who brought you up out of Egypt.”

Aaron’s leadership here is dreadful and Israel would pay dearly for this rebellion. God speaks to Moses in the harshest of terms.

Exodus 32:8, 10 They have been quick to turn away from what I commanded them and have made themselves an idol cast in the shape of a calf. They have bowed down to it and sacrificed to it and have said, ‘These are your gods, O Israel, who brought you up out of Egypt.’ “I have seen these people,” the LORD said to Moses, “and they are a stiff-necked people. 10 Now leave me alone so that my anger may burn against them and that I may destroy them. Then I will make you into a great nation.”

The discipline results in a great loss of life as Moses speaks the words of God.

Exodus 32:27 Then he said to them, “This is what the LORD, the God of Israel, says: ‘Each man strap a sword to his side. Go back and forth through the camp from one end to the other, each killing his brother and friend and neighbor.’ The Levites did as Moses commanded, and that day about three thousand of the people died.”

God has always called the people of God to worship and to the rejection of idolatry. After the initial idolatry of Israel in Exodus, the people of God remain faithful, for a time. Throughout the Scriptures, we see an ebb and flow of idolatry (2 Chronicles 11:15, Jeremiah 44:15, Ezekiel 6:4, Hosea 14:8, Revelation 9:20).

Why are you downcast, O my soul? (Psalm 42:5)

A Scripture passage that addresses the central issue of idolatry is found in Romans chapter one. There we read:

Romans 1:21-25 For although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened. 22 Although they claimed to be wise, they became fools 23 and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images made to look like mortal man and birds and animals and reptiles. Therefore God gave them over in the sinful desires of their hearts to sexual impurity for the degrading of their bodies with one another. 25 They exchanged the truth of God for a lie, and worshiped and served created things rather than the Creator–who is forever praised. Amen.

Here we read that they knew God, but did not honor Him or thank Him. Instead, they exchanged the glory of God for images. This is followed up by the statement that they exchanged the truth for a lie. Written in parallel fashion, we read that they worshiped created things rather than the Creator.

That is the heart of the issue. Idolatry at its core is about a very bad exchange. People exchange the glory of God for the glory of wood, stone, metal, food, fame, and sex. This represents a very poor substitute. To make things even worse, God permits people to do just that. Romans goes on to say:

Romans 1:26 Because of this, God gave them over to shameful lusts.

Yes, God will allow people to forgo the glorious for the mundane. He will allow us to choose it and He will allow us to suffer the results from it. The result is a downcast soul.

Consider this word downcast for a moment. Divide this compound word and you have “down” and “cast”. The picture we see is that of a person who has experienced loss. The person is walking along a secluded path with puddles along the way. While the sun has already burst through the clouds above, the person continues to “look-down” as he walks along.

By contrast, we read in Isaiah 51:6 “Lift up your eyes to the heavens” as well as in Psalm 121:1 “I lift up my eyes to the hills–where does my help come from?” God is calling us from a downcast glance on the created things of this world to an upward gaze of His glory.

Do you find yourself downcast at times? Why? Are there things in this created world that capture your attention? Perhaps you are looking for life in the created things around you. We can look to food, fame, sex, Christian service, power, ancestry, knowledge, and/or drugs for a sense of well being. While we may be able to state that these things don’t give life, we can still go after them unconsciously looking for just that.

The Great Exchange

If Romans chapter one points out a pathetic exchange of God’s glory for the created things of this world, many times in the New Testament we read of a great exchange.

1Peter 2:9-10 But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light. 10 Once you were not a people, but now you are the people of God; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy. (emphasis mine)

Matthew 11:28 “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.” (emphasis mine)

Romans 6:23 For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord. (emphasis mine)

Time and time again, God has taken the death and brokenness of our lives and exchanged them for life and wholeness.

Idolatry or Life?

We have seen from the above discussion that we can take the glory of the Creator and exchange it for a downcast view of created things. We look for life from those things that do not have life and can never give us life. In the process we forgo the only source of life, the Lord Jesus Christ and find barrenness instead.

What is the solution? I would suggest the solution of old: Recognition and repentance. Our only hope to find life is to respond to God in recognizing our tendency and pattern of idolatry. This recognition comes as the Holy Spirit shows us our wayward ways.

Once we recognize our downcast idolatry, we can find hope and life, as we look to the Creator and the glory that is His alone. We can then begin and continue to walk with our gaze toward Him. The result is life. If we look for life in creation, we will never find it. If we look for life in Jesus, we will always find it.
Things to Ponder

1. When you look back on the times when you have been downcast in spirit, is it related to an experience of taking your eyes off the Creator and focusing on some aspect of creation?

2. What is your preferred object of creation? What is it that is most likely to grab your affection?

3. How do you celebrate the glory of God?

~ by Rick Mann, PhD

Comments
  1. bettycollier says:

    This is a good word, So many times I see people caught up in a stupor for the wrong desires’ even though it is tearing them apart, they can’t let it go. something like a big truck has to run over them to get them to wake up. I am really disappointed at times with the body of CHRIST, to see so called saints’ caught up in the lifestyle of the rich and famous’ and parading looking down on others that are into simplicity’ I have been caught up with the wrong desires, because I began to think about keeping up with the popular crowd, but i quickly repented, and resorted back into the rest of JESUS’ I love people and they are my preferred object of creation’ I am about the truth’ and I am affectionate about mankind embracing each other’s differences’ and celebrating the creator who made us physically different for his own glory’ looking different does not make us better as some would claim, but it’s for our enjoyment on this earthly journey. I am truly thankful today for how the creator designed me and this was not always the case. Thank you for such a inspired post. This is revelation knowledge’

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