Since this quarter’s started, I’ve been reflecting quite a bit on the previous school year, from my the state of my faith to the friendships I’ve built to why the heck did I think it was a good idea to wear–on average–only two layers through what was perhaps the most brutal winter of my life (my conclusion: I was pretty stupid.)
The thing I’ve been reflecting on most intensely has been faith, specifically what impeded my growth throughout last year: idolization.
And if you haven’t caught on already, I’ll be approaching the featured topic of idolization through a Protestant Christian lens. This will be the foundation from which my message today will grow. For those who aren’t versed in basic Christian principles, don’t worry. I plan on keeping my points simple and to the point in addition to providing additional context as needed.
Idolization. What do you think of when you hear this word? I don’t just mean within a Christian context, but what does it mean to YOU, drawing on your personal experiences? Go ahead and spend some time contemplating it.
I get the sense that when people see the “idol” half of the word, they immediately picture some ostentatiously pagan worship ritual involving half-naked people crying aloud with harsh, unnatural sounds and dancing wildly around a towering statue of a beast encricled by altars of fire.
Uhhhh…I mean that can technically count, but the form of idolization I’m referring to is subtler in practice and actually ubiquitous in our modern societies. How so? Allow me to explain.
For me as a Christian, idolization is placing anything other than God as the most important thing in my life. It can comprise of literally anything: grades, number of social media followers, physical appearance, a love interest, professional success, etc. Oftentimes, it takes place in our lives under the guise of a “passion”, “goal”, or “ambition”.
Idolization doesn’t just stop at prioritizing. It extends into adoration. When you idolize something, you’re excessively fond, perhaps even obsessive of it. Simply put, it’s as if you’re in a toxic love relationship with it.
You praise your idol and boast of it. Why? The reasons are as numerous and diverse as the 7+ billion people on this earth, but on a general level, it’s because you believe that it has the potential to engender fulfillment in your life and fill that achingly empty space within you.
Finally, idolization results in enslavement to that idol.
On my first day back at UC Davis, I encountered this warning in Deuteronomy chapter 11 verse 6, “Be careful, or you will be enticed to turn away and worship other gods and bow down to them”.
After reading it once, I immediately paused and read it again. Then again and again and again. The order in which the verbs in this verse occurs fascinated me. Let me break it down for you, word by word, but before that a brief (and I mean BRIEF) rundown of the historical and cultural context of this time.
Basically, God promised Abraham, the ancestor of the Israelites, He would make Abraham into a great nation, and He would give his descendants the Israelites possession over a rich, abundant land. Before He brought this promise to fruition, the Israelites lived as slaves in Egypt for around 400 years give or take. Now, God is in the midst of delivering them from Egypt to that promised land, and here is where we find our spotlighted verse.
Ok, got all that?
I’m imagining some of you sitting there groaning cause this is like, what, the 5,000th time you’ve heard this story? While some of you others are blinking at your screens thinking, “Ancestors? Slaves? Egypt? Guess I probably shouldn’t have skipped history class in high school” . For those of the latter category, here’s a helpful article (4 minute read). Hopefully, you like helpful articles as much as I do and give it a skim. Anyways, moving on.
Be Careful— The very fact that Moses has to give the Israelites this warning of “be careful”reveals that God has knowledge regarding the human heart and it’s ways. God knows your thoughts, habits, feelings, guilt, and life (Psalm 139), and He’s telling us to actively be on the guard day and night, fighting against that natural tendency to turn to idols.
Enticed— Think of this word as “tempted”. What does temptation connote? It connotes that there is wrong and right in a situation. The right thing for us to do is to obey and follow God. The wrong thing is to pursue after an idol. The fact that we have a choice when it comes to doing right or wrong again highlights our battle against our own sinful nature.
Turn away–Here’s where things really fascinated me. What’s the first thing that needs to happen for us in order to stop worshiping God wholeheartedly and begin idolizing other things? We turn our eyes away from Him.
I heard a relevant message two days ago during my fellowship gathering. The speaker unravelled the meaning of the common Christian phrase “fix our eyes on Him”, commenting that to do so means to see everything through the lens of glorifying God (aka making Him known).
When we are with difficult co-workers, we think, “How can I glorify Him in my interactions with these people?” or when we are planning out our week, we ponder, “How can I manage my time so that it would be pleasing to Him?”
Essentially, we filter our thoughts and actions through God before carrying them out. But when our eyes are turned away from Him and onto something else, we base everything we do and say around that idol. That idol, rather than God, now dictates how we live our lives.
Worship–For a while as a young Christian, I wondered what is truly worship. My understanding has sharpened over the years, and recently over summer my friend from back home showed me a video that summarized worship as “our love expressed to God as a response to His grace towards us” (4:05 min).
It makes sense to me whenever I fit this definition into the various forms of worship I’ve witnessed in the church, such as giving financially (responding with gratitude towards His material provision), singing or dancing (musically expressing our love for Him), and crying tears of awe (emotionally expressing our love).
What shouldn’t make sense is why would we worship “other gods”, or in other words, idols? But for some people worshiping “other gods” is all they know in this life. If you’ve never experienced the unconditional love and all-encompassing grace of God, then, yeah, I agree that wealth, possessions, work, passions, status, friends, family, marriage, sex, sensuality, etc are some of the most motivating things we’re ever going to experience in life.
If we do know the unconditional love and all-encompassing grace of God, we have a need to examine ourselves when we find ourselves worshiping “other gods”. Has the things of this world shown us even 0.00001% of the amount of love and grace that God has shown us? Did our job or car or crush decide to step out of a sphere of glory to pay the price for our sin so that we, in our unrighteousness and imperfection, can become eternally righteous and perfect?
Nope. So let’s be careful or we will be enticed to worship what was never meant to receive our worship (Gal 4:8).
Bow down–As I’ve mentioned previously, the end product of idolization is enslavement. What’s the key quality of slavery? The absence of freedom.
In Sunday school two years ago (holy moly has it really been that long??), my teacher explained that because as followers of God we are called to obey Him rather than our own desires, it seems as if we’re simply selling ourselves into another form of slavery. The truth is, however, that only in Jesus can we find real freedom–freedom from spiritual and physical death.
Our creator designed us to be creatures of worship. It’s inevitable for us. Our very desires, lusts, passion, hunger for purpose testify to this. If we’re not allowing Him to rule over our lives, we’re allowing something else to rule. Trust me, you want to live under the reign of a ruler whom you can enter a loving relationship with rather than something that cannot see nor hear nor care for you (Psalm 135:15-18). Only God’s love can fill that achingly empty space within you. Nothing else. Only to God should we bow in obedience.
Chapter 11 in Deuteronomy opens with “Love the Lord you God and keep his requirements, his decrees, his laws and his commands always.” If you follow what it says, you’ll live in complete opposite to the one who has failed to keep the command in verse 16, who has turned away, worshipped other gods, and bowed to them instead.
For those who have proclaimed to devote their lives to God, idolization is dangerous, even fatal to our spiritual health. I know from my personal experiences. If you’ve ever felt guilty, ashamed, purposeless, empty, sorrowful after having acted out of love for something other than God, you’ve experienced the fatility of idolization as well.
I want to end on a personal note. My walk with Jesus freshmen year was almost…disappointing. I think I’m realizing this right now as I’m typing out these words for you.
I wish I’d witnessed greater passion for Jesus and His kingdom on campus. I wish my passion for Jesus remained unwavering even in a dry period.
I wish I stood strong in my convictions and didn’t become enticed by the many idols my new chapter presented me– career, uncertainty of the future, the praises and attention of people, and worldly wealth/status. I wish I’d been humble enough to confess to the Lord how needy and weak I was in battling idolization during its early stages.
If given the chance, would I change anything about last year? I would not, though I did recognize the wrongness of my idolzation and repent of it. The mistakes and trials of the past belong in my life for a reason no matter how difficult they may have been. God has taught me in the past as a young teenager that nothing happens without His permission and more importantly without a good reason.
The fact that I am now able to candidly reflect on my obsessions and anxieties from last year, confess them to God, and have Him humble me through the experience is glorifying to Him. My current sanctification (aka being made holy or pure) is a proclaimation of His goodness, mercy, love, and kindness to me.
You might currently be scaling a mountain of your own or crawling your way through a valley of shadows. Please, hold onto Him. Pray, pray, pray and do not give up (Luke 18:1-9). In His time, according to His will, He will give you rest, He will give you peace, and He will give you understanding to see how He is glorifying Himself and sanctifying you through your situation.
You might have noticed that the title states this is a part 1 out of 2 post. If you haven’t, then surprise, surprise!
Next time, I want to shed light on how God has been guiding me out of that idolizing mindset. He’s still in the process, but the developments that are happening have been a source of encouragement for me and hopefully will be for you, whatever season you may be in.
Until next time!