When I was a little girl, I would read the stories about the Israelites and their idolatry, and I was always so confused. Why was it so hard for them? Why didn’t they just get rid of the stupid idols and get on with things? Silly Israelites.
Now, I know better. Why? Because I have idols of my own. More than that, I like my idols. I miss them when I’m away. I’m fond of them. I like to tell myself it’s not really idolatry. It’s just coping or what I need to de-stress or Not That Bad.
I like to think the Lord has the same benign tolerance toward my foibles. Foibles sounds so much better than sin, doesn’t it? It’s so much easier to be a Christian when I can recast him into my own image.
It’s kind of like how I judge others, and I feel better, because my idols are more tolerable than theirs. I somehow think I can see objectively, that my idol-comparison charts give credence to my habitual sin. I know it’s wrong, and I do it anyway.
The thing is, I’m not fooling anyone. The living Word, who cuts through joints and marrow down to the very thoughts of my heart, knows the truth. He is the truth. And it’s doubtful that my family is falling for my weak attempts to justify my compromises. I certainly don’t fool the enemy who knows too well the monotonous variations of our sin – the uncreative footholds we humans unfailingly offer him.
Just to make you uncomfortable I’ll say that one day last year, I began to wonder if my media intake was idolatrous. I had told myself it was benign. After all, I’m thoughtful about what I watch. It’s all pretty “neutral” content.
But that’s just my legalism talking, the part of me that says idolatry can be clearly defined: black-and-white, no objections, you tell me what it is (or what it isn’t), and I’ll fall in line. The problem is that when I live like this, when I try and manage my behavior, I’m missing the point, missing what’s really at the root of my heart’s desires.
If you are searching for your idols, ask yourself one question: Where do I go when things get “hard”? The sure mark of an idol is that we run to it to escape our pain and fear.
Long day? Movie and a pint of ice cream. Fussy children? Nap-time equals a little virtual vacation. I sat down and listed what I could remember of the TV series I had seen on Netflix over the past six or so years. Do you know what that revealed? Roughly 2200 some hours. 93 solid days of media intake. Solid days.
I tried to console myself: that’s only an hour-and-a-half a day. Way less than the standard American daily screen time of 5 hours. That damned comparison trap again. Completely irrelevant. The reality was that there was no other voice I invited into my life for an hour-and-a-half a day, no other shrine I sat before uninterrupted.
Despite my busy schedule and many responsibilities, or perhaps because of them, I ran to meet my idols whenever I could. I sometimes mixed my worship: breathing my prayers and Bible verses before turning to my empty comfort. Even when I saw the truth of my idolatry, I hated to let them go. I liked them. My heart craved them. Okay, okay, full disclosure: I sometimes miss them on “hard days.”
Our idols may look different on the outside, but inside, they are the same: false saviors.
When I read the bits about idolatry in the Old Testament, the ones that make me squirm, I wonder if the Israelites also thought their idolatry was no big deal. Maybe they justified themselves as well. We still worship the One True God, okay? What does it hurt to have this little statue lying around? Statue-idols seem ridiculous to us, not tempting at all. I wonder: if I could take off my culturally-tinted glasses would I see with glaring clarity that some things I’ve called “no big deal” are actually idols?
So is it a big deal or not? We’re under grace, aren’t we (yes!)? And, Marissa, you’re always so black-and-white about things (true). You’re too intense (also true). Where is the middle ground, here? The sticking point is that with idolatry there appears to be no middle ground (definitely true).
The Lord was crystal clear that the Israelites were forbidden to seek solace in or help from or even bow down before other gods. In fact, they had to smash their idols before they could fully inherit the land.
As a girl, I took God’s commandments to be unquestionable fact. A rule was a rule. As an adult, I begin to see the graciousness of God in his commands. Though we cannot pretend to search out all his ways, we can see that his command against idolatry is for our own well-being as much as anything. Perhaps the necessity of smashing idols is more descriptive-reality than prescriptive command.
It is impossible to inherit Christ’s promises while sitting at the feet of idols. I cannot quench my thirst with living water while simultaneously digging broken cisterns for myself. I cannot open my hand to receive the good he’s always giving, when my fingers are clenched tight around my false gods. Idols keep us from the goodness of God; they give us a false-medicine that makes our wound even worse. We take them up, thinking to escape our hurt, only to find the shackles growing tighter.
When I turn to my idols in my pain, I end up wandering through the desert, longing for a home to dwell in and refusing any kind of nourishing food. I’m starving, and lifeless idols only distract me from the level paths that lead me home.
The question is: how hungry are you? How desperate are you for satisfying water? Are you willing to topple anything that might keep you from HIm? Do you want real food? He’s promised you a Good Land. Will you go in and take it?
There is only one way that your soul will be satisfied. Smash your idols. Prepare the way of the Lord. Clear the roads. Settle for nothing less than the Bread of Heaven. Repent from idolatry and run straight to Jesus. Feast on him and, in so doing, truly live.