A person reading the Old Testament on his or her smartphone or tablet might be the slightest bit amused at the notion of a grown man embracing an inanimate hunk of wood carved into some "god". The Old Testament is replete with these stories from the children of Israel forming a golden calf (a definite step up from wood) to lead them back to Egypt, to one of my favorites; the man Micah who had all sorts of idols and even a graven image of silver( Judges 17:1-12) and had to hire a priest to handle them all.
God Himself through the prophet Isaiah chides Israel for feeding a fire with wood from a tree and using the rest to create a god to worship. Even in the New Testament we read where the merchants of Ephesus are freaking out that the goddess Diana is being debunked, threatening the lucrative commerce around the manufacturing and distribution of this mighty goddess. How silly, we think, is the notion of a carved figure offering any sort of deliverance or salvation. But the truth is , we are every bit as guilty as these ancient peoples of idol worship.
This is not where I begin enumerating all the things we worship or whining about materialism. Our desire and dependence on material is a hazard of living in a material world. Materialism is a form of idolatry in that our need of stuff and things can obscure or eclipse our need for God. Jesus declared that man does not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the Father. But idolatry goes beyond an overemphasis of things.
To understand the threat of idolatry, we must understand God's heart as the sinfulness of idolatry derives from its offense to Him. I have daughters who are all of marrying age but as yet, unmarried. I have observed the ups and downs of their relationships with young men and have drawn some conclusions, the primary one being that God has revealed His jealous heart through young women! It drives young women who are ready and willing to center their lives around this man, crazy to discover that there are times when he would just as soon play a video game or hang out with his friends as be with them; that talking on the phone with these girls daily is not up there with oxygen or water as requisites for life; that gift giving is an insignificant practice requiring very little in the way of research, imagination, and unworthy of the dedication of vast resources. The exasperation is not solely from vanity; the fact is, all the above is very important to the young women.
When we someday fully appreciate the intensity of Gods love for us that would cause Him to number the hairs on our head, and the forces and resources that He brought to bear on our security and guidance, we will be aghast at our relative indifference to Him. And that is the more sinful aspect of idolatry: relative indifference to Him.The apostle Paul wrote his letter to the church at Phillipi while in prison. It is difficult to imagine the conditions one had to endure in a first century prison; bad food, not the latest in waste disposal, and a very rudimentary level of hygiene afforded to its guests. Combine that with the fact that Paul's life out of prison was almost equally challenging and one is amazed at the declaration, "I count everything as loss compared to the priceless privilege of knowing Him ... And my determined purpose is that I might know Him!" ( Phillipians 3: 8 &10) .
Some time ago, the Holy Spirit chided me for looking to meal time to lift my mood. ( I'm going to give everybody a moment to quit looking down your nose at me in disgust and get real! We all do it whether it's mealtime or break time or shopping time, etc. etc.). The Holy Spirit doesn't begrudge you looking forward to a meal; but the habitual looking to the next meal to anticipate happiness or joy causes your God a little jealousy! Give me a chance here! Over the past couple of months we have really been through it: we found out a beloved employee was doing very illegal things in one of our businesses, we were notified of an IRS audit, in another business, a $500 shipment was lost that we had to make good, we found out our accountant made a $26,000 mistake causing the audit to extend a yr on either side of the original audit yr, and I started bleeding in my left eye as the result of a torn retina. None of these things are life threatening but when they come at you one after another, in that unrelenting way it can cause one some despair. After my wife told me that one of the renters in our salon was leaving , which made 2 out of 4 on their way out, I rolled my eyes and slumped in my chair, just as bummed out as I could be. Phyllis looked at me and asked " What's the matter?" I looked at her incredulous and asked, "do you really have to ask that?" in an impolite tone and then went on to count off all the above disasters. You must understand that Phyllis has an incredible faith that protects her from despair and propels her to immediately begin looking for the fix. I apologized and a little bit later the Holy Spirit posed this challenge to me: " Do you think, with all this going on that you can find the joy I promised you?" I understood the enormous victory that would be and I knew it would afford me the ultimate freedom from at least a couple of idols.
For me, the combined effect of all these events was to threaten me financially. The idol of economic self- sufficiency robs God of the place he deserves in my life. I live in a state of uneasiness fearing an inadequacy or inability in that realm. We do a men's breakfast once a month and the difficulty of providing is a major topic. Secondary to that is the consequence of judgement in the event of my failure; to fail my family, my employees, and my clientele would be to disappoint everybody. Other people's opinion is a mighty idol! Think of King Saul and the awesome destiny he forsook because he worshipped the god of public approval more than the God of Israel! So, the Holy Spirit was proposing, if in the middle of all that threatened the illusion of my competence, in my sight and everybody else's if I could trust Him and dwell in the joy of my salvation, I will have put down a couple of dominant idols and , more importantly, restored God to the place he deserves in my life. AND, if after this big event type victory, I could be less focused on the little carnal mood enhancers which change like the weather and can pick you up then put you down kind of like sugar or caffeine, I could experience the optimistic faith and joy that comes with truly knowing Him and loving Him, I could share in Paul's remarkable mindset.