Trusting in anything other than God for your security, happiness, hope and daily provision is idolatry. The bible says that is a fundamentally fatal idea, because it goes against the purpose of our very existence: to acknowledge God’s glorious character. If we don’t acknowledge this in our daily lives, then we are denying God his rightful place as God, and that is our most serious sin. Furthermore, if we persist in this sin, we blind ourselves to the grace, forgiveness and sheer glory of God, and miss out on the very thing we were created to enjoy forever. This is the most dangerous path we can tread, and yet we tread it daily.
Our idols are often “Good Things made into God things, which is a Bad Thing”. Idolatry looks like this: God gives us good things, often with instructions for how best to use them, and we recklessly appropriate them for our own greedy and savage uses, inflating our own sense of worth and offering little more than lip-service to our generous heavenly father.
Even for people who have accepted Jesus as their saviour and lord, allowing ourselves to let go of our idols is a slow and lifelong process which can only be done with the Holy Spirit’s help. Trust me, we all suck at this. But because of Jesus, God forgives, and his mercies are new every morning, which means that Christians do not need to be held captive to their past failings, and we can embark on a new trajectory that leads us away from idolatry and into full communion with God.
In the first instance, though, how do we identify those things that are preventing us from finding our peace and satisfaction in God?
David Powlison, in his book Seeing With New Eyes highlights 11 questions that help us identify what our idols are.
- What do I worry about most?
- What, if I failed or lost it, would cause me to feel that I did not even want to live?
- What do I use to comfort myself when things go bad or get difficult?
- What do I do to cope? What are my release valves? What do I do to feel better?
- What preoccupies me? What do I daydream about?
- What makes me feel the most self-worth? Of what am I the proudest? For what do I want to be known?
- What do I lead with in conversations?
- Early on what do I want to make sure that people know about me?
- What prayer, unanswered, would make me seriously think about turning away from God?
- What do I really want and expect out of life? What would really make me happy?
- What is my hope for the future?
We will soon start the book of Ecclesiastes, written by a cheerful guy who argues that everything is meaningless. I think it’s important to prepare for this by evaluating the things in our lives that give us meaning, and discovering whether there is something more important out there, beyond our immediate needs, appetites and desires.