I have a collection of idols at home. No shining little statues or carved golden images, but idols they are nonetheless. They demand sacrifices every day, and they hold an incredible pull over my heart (and therefore my life as well). It’s ridiculous, and frustrating, and periodically I smash them all to pieces. But before long there they are once again, multiplying silently, calling out to me with ever-increasing urgency. And this month they will exert a particularly strong pull on my life. God hates idols. We know that intellectually, and Isaiah captures it quite eloquently:
“Present your case,” says the Lord.
“Set forth your arguments,” says Jacob’s King.
22 “Tell us, you idols,
what is going to happen.
Tell us what the former things were,
so that we may consider them
and know their final outcome.
Or declare to us the things to come,
23 tell us what the future holds,
so we may know that you are gods.
Do something, whether good or bad,
so that we will be dismayed and filled with fear.
24 But you are less than nothing
and your works are utterly worthless;
whoever chooses you is detestable.
25 “I have stirred up one from the north, and he comes—
one from the rising sun who calls on my name.
He treads on rulers as if they were mortar,
as if he were a potter treading the clay.
26 Who told of this from the beginning, so we could know,
or beforehand, so we could say, ‘He was right’?
No one told of this,
no one foretold it,
no one heard any words from you.
27 I was the first to tell Zion, ‘Look, here they are!’
I gave to Jerusalem a messenger of good news.
28 I look but there is no one—
no one among the gods to give counsel,
no one to give answer when I ask them.
29 See, they are all false!
Their deeds amount to nothing;
their images are but wind and confusion.
The taunting tone of God’s challenge serves to emphasize how ridiculous it is to put our trust in idols. They are nothing. They say nothing and do nothing. They can’t predict the future or explain the past. They can’t control today and they provide no security for tomorrow. They are “wind and confusion;” hopeless and useless, creating problems and solving nothing.
Of course we would never bow down to a golden pig or a carved piece of wood. We’re far too proud to be caught doing something so primitive. No, our idol worship is much more sophisticated. We claim to love the Lord with all our heart, soul, mind and strength, but when it comes right down to it, we still look to others for our meaning and significance. Without even noticing it we can find ourselves living and working to please, not God, but a parent who never seemed satisfied with us, or an ex-spouse who never thought we looked good enough, or a trusted mentor or teacher whose approval always eluded us.
We serve idols of success, that promise to give us the world if we can just achieve a little bit more. We sacrifice to the idol of security, which promises us peace if we can just work hard enough to control every last aspect of our lives. The list is endless because our hearts are endlessly creative in constructing these false gods. But Isaiah reminds us they are all false. They amount to nothing. Moreover, in Jesus Christ we no longer need to strive after anything, for God has given us everything. He has freed us from the grip of the false idols that lay claim on our hearts.
As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins, 2 in which you used to live when you followed the ways of this world and of the ruler of the kingdom of the air, the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient. 3 All of us also lived among them at one time, gratifying the cravings of our flesh and following its desires and thoughts. Like the rest, we were by nature deserving of wrath. 4 But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, 5 made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions—it is by grace you have been saved. 6 And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus, 7 in order that in the coming ages he might show the incomparable riches of his grace, expressed in his kindness to us in Christ Jesus. 8 For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— 9 not by works, so that no one can boast. 10 For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do. (Ephesians 2:1-10)