Deciphering Idolatry, that Christian Term

Posting a reflection on Jeremiah with absolutely no football references on Superbowl Sunday demonstrates yet again how I have my finger on the pulse of society.  Now, what are these “Ravens” and “49’ers” that everyone’s talking about?

The word “idol” is used most in the Canadian vernacular in these two ways:

  • to identify a top level of celebrity, such as “American Idol” or “teen idol”; or
  • when “idle” is misspelled.

Unless you’re a Christian, and then the word comes up quite a lot.  The term and concept of idolatry is throughout scripture and it is at the root of warnings against sin.  There is much ado about it in the prophecies, but it is also a modern-day–or rather, timeless trap.

Idolatry is a tricky sin, encompassing most sins we commit. I’d say every sin, but I haven’t physically gone to the work of listing sins to see if that applies.You can agree with me right away, or you can read the next paragraph on how I came to that conclusion with plain ole logic, which I find helpful to engage in… once in a while.

While only the third commandment in the 10 Commandments deals specifically with forming idols, The Greatest Commandments (Love the Lord your God, and love your neighbour – Mark 12:30-31) deals with our motivation for all spiritual laws.  Therefore, if you do not Love the Lord, you love something more. If you put anything before the Lord, it is idolatry.  I say the same thing about sinning against your neighbour simply because when it comes down to either showing contempt for your neighbour’s maker and/or breaking his commandment.

I am reading in Jeremiah (chapter 2) the Lord’s accusations against Israel.  He is full of love for his wayward bride, who has left him to follow worthless idols and, as a result, has herself become worthless.

The warnings against Israel, our spiritual ancestors, can be warnings/guidelines for us.  With the same protective love, God wants to alert us to the error of our ways, to turn us away from the path of death, toward life.

Perhaps one of the thorniest things about idolatry is that it isn’t easily recognizable.  We may call ourselves worshippers of God, we may say he comes first, but we are still be putting our trust in other things.  Idolatry has the added symptom of desensitizing us to our own sin.

When I see at the reprimands of God to Israel, I can take them as a benchmark for myself, external evidence of an inward problem.  It’s an easy trap to fall into.  I may be guilty of idolatry, that is, putting something in a greater place of importance than God, if:

  • I am without peace (looking everywhere for answers, but never settling on anything);
  • I blame God (for consequences of my own choices)/I refuse to accept any blame;
  • I only ask God for help when I’m in trouble.

When I contemplate these symptoms, it makes me realize its a problem systemic in a culture where you can access almost anything you desire.  These symptoms aren’t rare, in fact just the opposite.  They are tragically widespread.

Thank the Lord, there is help. He knows all these roads we pursue lead to disappointment (“You will be disappointed by Egypt as you were by Assyria”). He wants only what is best for us.  Leave what is worthless behind. Repentance is the first step toward healing.

Jeremiah was appointed as a prophet in his mother’s womb to spread this word so that Israel would return to God.  May the truth of his words change us also.


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