Tuesday, September 9, 2008


High in Judeo-Christian law--near the top of the Ten Commandments--is "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" (Ex. 20:4, NIV). At first glance, that may seem like an easy commandment to follow--in Moses's day, people in every country may have bowed to statues, but today it's the person who does try something like that who's the oddball. But before we get smug, let's consider that idols can be "made" in the brain even more easily than with the hands. And that one of our popular television programs is called American Idol.

The dictionary defines an "idol" first as "an image used as an object of worship; a false god," second as "one that is adored, often blindly or excessively," and third as "something visible but without substance." That last definition, rarely used today, probably sums it up best. While many idols are "visible" only to the minds of the people who worship them, and some idols are quite substantial in the sense of being solid and material, every idolater "sees" quite a bit in his or her object of worship; and every idol lacks the "substance" to fully deliver on the worshiper's expectations.

In the broadest sense, an idol is anything to which people give more devotion than it deserves, be "it" a sports hero, a personal collection of awards, a new car, a lucky charm, or even a concept such as (one of my own top bugaboos) the idea of leaving nothing unfinished or uncertain. Even Christian worship practices can be distorted into idols; there are people who wear Scripture verses as protective amulets, or who tell everyone that "if you have enough faith and pray in the right way, God will make you rich."

The primary difference between idols--whether statues, philosophies, possessions, or human beings--and the one true God is that God does have the power to grant anything we ask. The reason so many of us prefer idols is that God also has the power, solely on His own discretion, to refuse any such requests.

And we don't like that. Because another thing all idols have in common is that they can be made to serve the whims of everyone's secret number-one idol.


In ancient times of ages past,
When science was a skill unknown,
The people saw the sun and rain
And also plants and crops they'd grown
As signs that gods must guide the world;
So, making stands of gold or wood,
They sacrificed to beasts and stars
To pray for things that they thought good.
Then God commanded, "You must not
Praise images of things you see;
For I, Who dwell in light unseen,
Will have you worship none but Me."

As we, today, look back through time
Through lenses ground in what we've learned,
We laugh at ancient ignorance
When no one knew how the world turned
Or what did cause the rain and tides;
They prayed to useless clods of stone--
And we make idols out of power
And set possessions on life's throne.
Our idols are invisible,
Yet quite as real as those before--
While God alone still rates our praise
And reigns in glory evermore.

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