Worshipping Amiss

Worshipping Amiss

During an early morning bike ride I was giving thanks to the Lord for the opportunity to witness a particularly stunning full moon as it approached the time of its setting. It happened to be a “super moon,” plus a “strawberry moon” (given the season), and all of that was enhanced by how the moon appeared larger as it neared the horizon. It was an occasion to acknowledge and appreciate the One who created that moon and all the other heavenly bodies and have a moment of worship. However, as I worshipped the Creator it got me thinking about all the cultures that worshipped the creation instead. So many false religions centered around the moon and sun goddesses and gods, giving homage to the glorious creation instead of the far more glorious Creator behind it. It caused me to ponder idolatry and its roots.

It’s easy for us modern, science-informed humans to look down our noses at the ignorant heathens who allowed their fears and superstitions to inspire them to bow before idols of wood and stone. We think we are too enlightened now to ever give ourselves over to such fables; in fact, we are so anti-mystical that many have taken that to the point of throwing out belief in the true God along with the false. But have we moved on from idols as much as we think we have?

What was at the root of idolatry in the first place? Certainly, ancient man did not understand a lot of the scientific principles which govern our world, so when event occurred that they did not understand they gave in to superstition, but look deeper still—what was behind that? Isn’t it fear? A desire for control? A longing for predictability? So, when their world would go darker and get colder in the winter, or life would get harder for any number of reasons, a fear for their existence emerged, and the desire to get back to stability, to plenty, to satisfaction and warmth and comfort became the goal. The questions that arose were: “Why has this happened?” (They created a myth to explain.) “Have I done anything to cause this?” (Is there some Thing I have offended or something I have omitted that I can change?) “What can I do to fix it?” (How do I control my circumstances better?)

We can easily see how a more primitive mankind could try to understand this world in this way and look for cause and effect relationships. And once they though they’d determined a pattern, they created a ritual to ensure they got it right every time. But if that didn’t work, they’d look for another reason, another god, and another ritual to keep control and keep fear at bay.

But that was then, right? We are so much more enlightened now—or are we? The thing is, we humans still long for control, and when we don’t have it, we fear. There is a direct correlation between our sense of control and our sense of anxiety. When we fear, we look for ways to assuage that fear and get that sense of control back. If our default at such times is not to turn to the One who is in control and to trust Him, then what is it we turn to? Do we fear loss of security? That’s a major fear, and a complex one because there are so many types of threat to a variety of kinds of security—not having approval from people important to us; income instability, poor health, not succeeding in our chosen field, personal safety… The list can be quite long and as varied as the many solutions we come up with to relieve the anxiety. If approval is necessary for security, then people can become bigger in our eyes than God is—people become our idols. If we fear financial loss, it may cause us to lay our lives on the altar of accumulating wealth, climbing the corporate ladder, gathering stuff, “toys”, investments; thus, things or work becomes the idol, sometimes demanding the sacrifice of our family to satisfy that god.

Some fear poor health, or aging, or death so much that they are fastidious about their diets or their exercise routines, or they chase youth through pills and surgeries until it becomes an obsession which controls them. Recently, a famous woman known for her looks said that she would be willing to eat excrement if it would help her keep her youth. Those extremes are signs that something has become an idol.

Other people want to feel good about themselves. They can obsess about success, going beyond the need for money (that’s just a measuring line), but just wanting to be known, to have their ego stroked, to be affirmed constantly that they are worthy. For them achievement is an idol, they are idols to themselves. For some, they fear feeling bad about anything, so they chase constant pleasure, or try to numb themselves to anything painful through addictions. Comfort can become an insidious idol to so many of us, and we may not even be aware.

As I said, the list of potential fears and potential idols is long, and I have only scratched the surface. I define idolatry is looking to anything or anyone besides God for our security, satisfaction, safety, source, or serenity. We are essentially no different than our ancestors; our gods just look different and are more subtle. We can figure out what our idols are by asking ourselves what bothers us the most if they are threatened with loss, we do in secret, or we feel we have to excuse or justify. If we can’t exercise for the day are we distressed? Are we making excuses for what we eat? If a job loss or financial setback happens, are we reasonably bothered, or do we have a melt-down? If we aren’t admired as much as we think we should be, or overlooked, do we sulk and get bitter? Do we question our worth if we aren’t achieving? What is it that, if we don’t get it, makes us irritable or angry? What are we doing in a sneaky manner, or grudgingly justifying? What discomforts our soul a bit when we indulge in it? This is not to say that we should be stoic or giddy during times of loss or discomfort, or allow ourselves to enjoy pleasures, but are we reacting within reason for someone whose God is the loving, mighty, sovereign, personal God, or has our little god gotten all wobbly on us and shaken our sense of security?

John Calvin famously said that our hearts are idol factories, so no one is alone in the matter of creating idols. It is also often much easier to spot some else’s idol than our own. If we are to follow God’s commands to “Have no other gods before Me,” and “Worship the Lord your God and serve Him alone,” then we must regularly ask Him to turn His holy spotlight on the dark corners of our hearts and ferret out our desires and fears and the idols we create to assuage them. Only this will ensure that we are looking only to Him to calm our fears, satisfy our desires, and be the sole object of our worship.