Idols: American or Otherwise

About a month ago, I watched an episode of "King of the Hill" that got me to thinking. (It's a show about an awkward but kind Texas family... it took awhile to grow on me, but now I find it absolutely hilarious.)

On this particular episode, the pre-teen son, Bobby, has found his cousin's beauty school practice head (a plastic head with a wig) and has been talking and singing to it so that he'll feel more comfortable around girls. His dad finds out about this and is totally embarrassed that his son would do that, so awkwardly, he comes to his room to talk about it:
Hank Hill: "You're just using this head as a crutch."Bobby Hill: (totally serious) "It's not a crutch, dad. It's just something I've come to rely on to help me through life."
:) Witty, right?

But as I thought about this quote (to be truthful, wondering how I could incorporate it into a post because it cracked me up so much), I began thinking about how familiar words can actually cause us to misinterpret meanings at times. Because we *think* we know what something means, we can skim over it and altogether miss what's being said. I think we (the American church) do this with biblical references to "idols" and "idolatry", because they seem so foreign and ancient.

Allow me to share a few definitions:
  • idol: somebody or something greatly admired or loved, often to excess
  • idolatry: when anything or anybody gets what God alone deserves
  • idol: an object of passionate devotion; a person or thing greatly loved or adored.
  • idolatry: excessive attachment to or respect of anything, high esteem which borders on adoration. (adapted from Websters to make more readable)
Let's look at some of these words...
  • admiration
  • love
  • excess
  • passion
  • excitement
  • esteem
  • adored
  • attachment to
...and consider with me... What things or people would be described by these words in our lives?
  • TV shows?
  • Decorating/designing the home?
  • Scrapbooking?
  • Blogging?
  • Homeschooling?
  • Food?
  • A particular method of child-rearing?
  • A particular doctrinal view?
  • Oprah or Dr. Phil or some other TV sage/guru?
  • A "celebrity pastor"?
  • Sex?
  • A particular hobby?
  • Getting/staying thin?
  • Money?
  • A powerful position?
  • Being respected?
What things are being idolized in your life? (And for me, what things am I idolizing?) What things are taking our time, energy, and passion? What things are getting our devotion above and before God? What things are we meditating on and spending your money on? What is being excessively adored in our lives?

I don't use these words lightly. Our family has seen-- firsthand-- real, live, bow-down-to-big-metal-statue idolatry, when we went to Thailand for a few months to have our third child. It isn't pretty-- it's heartbreaking bondage and emptiness. To walk past idol houses and see foods, beverages, money, and gifts left for the "spirits"... to see women paying entranced priests so that they might have favor with Buddha. It broke my heart to see how idolatry, in this obvious form, is alive and real and a great stronghold in this world.

But it did show me how much-- in living color-- an idol is something that takes one's focus, soaking up attention, time, devotion, money, and loyalty. And then I brought that message home to roost in my own heart-- because idolatry, in any form, is an affront to God.

To hear something that's particularly insightful to me on this point, would you take a minute and scroll down to the bottom of this webpage? In the black box, you'll find a list of songs. Click on the very top song, called "America's Idols." It may prove helpful as you consider these things... I know it has been challenging to me.

A final "scene" to consider--
God: "You're letting __________________ become an idol in your life."
Any of us: "It's not an idol, God. It's just something I adore that takes all my time, mental energy, passion, money, and attention."
That scene is sad, and probably all too common. It hits close to home when we substitute in whatever things that we individually struggle with excessively focusing on (eating out, TV shows, blogging, football season, politics/doctrine, homeschool goals, etc.)-- those things that take the place of God, as supremely valuable and worship-worthy, in our lives.

Most High God, help us to each evaluate our own lives-- our passions, the things we focus on, the people we admire, and the things we devote ourselves to-- in light of Your Word. Help us to flee from any idolatry in our lives.


Candice said...

Jess--thanks for that. Very challenging. God has been working on me about this very issue...certain things I just spend too much time thinking about and they do take my focus off of God. It's sobering to think of them as possible 'idols'. Enjoyed the Mark Driscoll clip, too.

Rachel said...

So poignant. My "idol" came straight to my mind. I will praying that the Lord helps me lay it down today. Thanks for a great post!

Rachel said...

There's a song called "Clear the Stage" by Ross King that really helped me understand and get me thinking about what my own idols were. I was convicted enough to give something up. It's a wonderful song if you'd like to take a listen (it's on iTunes).

Anonymous said...

I think even our children can be an idol.

Thanks for this post.


Anonymous said...

Hi, This is Amy

Love the question. It's comforting to know that people think of things like this.

One question - Does not Jesus live in hearts, rather than in a statue of Jesus on the cross, as is so often present in churches? From what I've heard of East-Asian religions, I was under the impression that Buddha, or the "spirit to which they are praying," is also regarded as a being living within each person.

I have also seen Catholics and other Christians tithe at churches, light candles, and feel that it's special and important to say their prayers AT THE ALTAR. Forgive me, but while the physical structure and sculptures before the worshipers may be different, I do not see how the acts are different.

I know what you mean, however, in that the idols and temples in Thailand can seem sad. I have seen them, too. But while there, I am aware of the eyes through which I am seeing, and that I may not have the whole story.

angiejmq said...

I've been thinking a lot lately about this very subject. God has really been challenging me to put Him first in everything. In America, we have so much. It's so easy to make idols out of our blessings.

Liz said...

Wow, I always go away from making home thinking a new thought - or an old thought in a different way. Thanks a lot.

I think, also, many of those issues can become The One Thing we surrender, instead of living a completely surrendered life to God in all areas . . . as if we get to pick and choose the places of our heart we surrender. Something I've been thinking about that is along similar lines . . .

Jess said...

Hi Amy...
Jesus does live in hearts, and not still on the cross, which is why mainline Protestant denominations forbid imagery inside the church, because of this biblical warning against imagery and idolatry.

You have drawn some interesting parallels, but I'm not sure they're as similar as one might perceive. Christians do often tithe in churches, but those tithes are not seen as proportionate (or even relevant) to whether or not God hears your prayers. It is not a "buy a ____ and curry favor with God" sort of "deal", as is the norm in Thai Buddhism, for example.

As for prayer... Christians are commanded to pray without ceasing. Yes, many will stop to pray at an altar, or in their seat while in church... but we are to never stop praying.

But the most important part of all of it is WHO we're praying TO. If we're praying to the one true God in faith, that is entirely different than praying to a "god" inside of a lucky statue who gets doves or snakes tossed down the river to curry favor, so that one's prayers might be better heard.

God Almighty does not dwell in statues. An idol crafted by the hands of men cannot talk, move, or act in any way. The Bible makes it clear that even the idol-maker understands this-- "one part of the wood he uses for an idol, the other part, he burns to keep warm". There is simply no comparing the worship of God the Father (who had no beginning) with the worship of a piece of metal or wood (which has been formed by God and crafted by men).

But thanks for thinking on these things further with me.

Anonymous said...

Thank YOU! I so appreciate a person who is willing to share, explain and help further my understanding. Amy

Andrea said...

Thank you so much for the wisdom in this post. It is such a reminder to confess our sins to God daily, before we crowd out God. It has been on my heart a lot lately about people turning "family" and "home" into an idol. Family and home are important, but these people are out of balance. They can't find their way out of Proverbs 31 or Titus 2. What about the rest of the Bible? They are so focused on creating godly families that they neglect God. I hope I expressed that right--it isn't that I don't think focusing on family and home are a good thing, but rather that they can be taken to extremes and become an idol. Anyways, thank you so much for your wisdom. I am always blessed by your meaty posts :)

Anonymous said...

I just read that a research group concluded that only about 9% of professing Christians have a biblical worldview.

The statement was made on a Focus on the Family related web site, while introducing the motivation for developing something called "The Truth Project."

Your post seems to parallel some of the consequences of falling short in terms of biblical worldview.

I've only just become aware of "The Truth Project" -- thanks to a friend's recommendation -- and have just started to learn about it superficially, but it quickly seemed to me it might be of interest to you.

Here's a link to an introduction:

"A Moose"

DOTK said...

Very timely and thought-inducing post. I so appreciate your wisdom.
James MacDonald (Walk in the Word) just had a series on this (Or at least one of the sermons in a series ) titled "in your affections." and as I listened to it *YESTERDAY*,I found it interesting that you had a post on this as well. Hmmmmm. God is certainly sovereign and perhaps trying to gently remind me. Thank you so much.

Shannon said...

Thanks for this, Jessica. Living in India, seeing all of the man made idols, makes it easy to brush off the idols in my own life. Thanks for reminding me to watch where my adoration is.

Marci said...

Awesome post and great comments! Thanks for bringing to light of all the "innocent" stuff we fill our lives with (lots of these we call "blessings")that actually distract us from God. I pray that God will show me how to out Him first.

Keriann said...

Well, this was a much needed read. I am humbled and thankful for this post today. Thanks, Jess.

Anonymous said...

In Jewish theology, almost every commandment can be broken to save a life, with very few exceptions: idolatry, adultery, murder and incest.

This refers to consciously worshiping an idol.

I see what you're saying about how some people let a passion/hobby become an idol in their lives, but that to me seems different from deliberately declaring something to be your God. Do you think God judges this kind of "inadvertent idolatry" as harshly as someone bowing down to a statue of Baal?

I was going to ask you about tithing in the context of "buying favor" with God, but someone beat me to it.

Laurie B