The Idol of Idolatry

As we focus on identifying and smashing the idols in our lives, we sometimes forget to pause and marvel at God’s sufficiency as He uses these fears and struggles for our sanctification.

Topics: Idolatry

I penned the words from Martin Luther’s Large Catechism on an index card in high school and again on the inside of the Bible I carried through my 20s: “Whatever your heart clings to and confides in, that is your god.” I was obsessed with my idols—not with worshiping them, but with smashing them. I played idol whack-a-mole, smacking down anything that popped up threatening to take my eyes off Christ. I was an expert at managing what John Calvin called the “idol factory” that was my heart, constantly on the lookout for ways I was failing to find my all in Christ.

The problem with this vigilante Christian life was that I concerned myself more with being an expert idol smasher than with seeing God as sufficient in what He was using to sanctify me. Instead of wrestling with matters like my fears, my doubts about God, my love for nature and art, my career plans or my desire for home and a family, I pretended they didn’t exist to keep them from becoming idols. I didn’t want to cling to or confide in anything other than God Himself.

Looking back, I realize that this focus kept me from seeing how God was trying to use my fears, doubts, loves and hopes to show me more of Himself. Sometimes, He simply gives His children abundant gifts to enjoy rather than having to worry about them as potential idol traps. Other times, He allows hardship as a means of sanctifying idolatry. Despite my best intentions, my idol hunting had become an idol itself. Rather than resting in the finished work of Jesus, my vigilance became a means of proving my worth to God.

Despite my best intentions, my idol hunting had become an idol itself. Rather than resting in the finished work of Jesus, my vigilance became a means of proving my worth to God.

It is wrong for us to find our identity in our idols. We are not identified by markers like financial success, marital status, sexual proclivities, the ability to birth and parent children successfully or a wall of degrees. The world marks us as such, but we who are in Christ know these attributes amount to nothing at the level ground of the cross. Yet we can take such a truth to an extreme and convince ourselves that since God cares little for the things of this earth, we should do the same.

My favorite poem is titled “Love Calls Us to the Things of This World,” and it is about laundry. It makes laundry beautiful, hard, mysterious and very, very real. The poet says that while we are not to love the things of this world, the very act of love calls us to care about the things of this world. We are called to wrestle with laundry, budgets, chores, singleness, infertility, death and hospital bills. We are called to step into the trenches of life, fully face its complexities and see God as both good and sufficient in the midst of it.

It is not idolatry to concern ourselves with clean clothes or to care about the matters of today. It becomes idolatry when anxiety reigns supreme. Consider the words of Jesus in Matthew 6:

“Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life? And why are you anxious about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is alive and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith? Therefore do not be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you. Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble.

Jesus clearly teaches there will be trouble enough for today. There will be cares enough for today. He doesn’t dismiss our troubles or pretend they don’t hurt. Rather, He says they exist, and today is full of them.

Your cares today might be financial or marital, they might be universal or deeply personal, but whatever form they take, they matter. They matter to God so they should matter to you because He cares for you in the midst of them. You don’t have to play whack-a-mole, pretending they don’t exist or that you’re too mature to care. You can stare them straight in the face and call them what they are, knowing the One you worship sees them from eternity with a greater clarity than you.