Quaker Boy Timothy in a post from quite a while back had something interesting to say about idols. He wrote:
I came across a new understanding of “idols” this morning–not completely new, just nuanced. It was in the New Living Translation that my daughter uses. John 5:21 says: “Little children, keep away from anything that might take God’s place in your heart.” Both the King James Version and the New International Version translate that verse as “Keep away from idols.”If an idol is something that takes God’s place in my heart then…
by what standard am I judged?
by what rules do I live?
by what principles am I guided?
by whom am I taught?
by what am I guarded?
In the end, where am I safe?
Perhaps there is a clue to the importance of this right above this verse, in 1 John 5:19: “We know we are children of God but the world around us is under the power and control of the Evil One.”
I like some of the questions he posed, but even more I like the understanding of an idol that the NLT uses: “things that take God’s place in my heart.” Too often I believe that we modern (and post-modern) folk relegate the worship of idols to some far away place and time. After all, we don’t go around carving or hewing statues that we set up in high holy places and bow down before. Very few, if any, of us, have ever been confronted about our faith in God and Christ, let alone facing the temptation or pressure to worship some inanimate object. Those days are, for the most part, over, though there are some who see the pursuit of those pieces of paper with graven images of former presidents and leaders all over them as being roughly equivalent to idolatry.
But if we broaden our understanding of an idol as being anything that takes God’s place in our hearts, then idolatry is certainly alive and well in the world today, even in the church. In our personal lives there are the idols of family, work, material success and well-being, and let’s not forget the modern nation-state with its call for undivided loyalty and allegiance. In the lives of many churches, there is the worship of church buildings and architecture, church growth and worshiptainment, and the cult of personality that sometimes surrounds the lead pastors in mega-churches. In smaller churches the issues of survival, the lure of the glorious past, and the mantra/prayer of “We’ve aways done it this way.” often come first in congregational life.
This brings me back to some of the questions raised earlier, particularly these: “By what rules do I/we live?” and “By what principles am I/are we guided” It seems to me that the answers we give to these questions will help us decide the extent to which the disease of idolatry infects our lives.