"The evil is not that we desire things but that we desire them too much."

-- John Calvin

"Happy are those who do not turn aside to false gods" (Psalm 40:4).

Ancient idolatry was simple and direct: dancing around the Asherah poles, bowing and scraping before the Baals. Present-day idolatry is subtler and harder to detect: it's the false centering of ourselves on something or someone other than God.

Calvin says our hearts are factories in which we manufacture idols. We have an accumulation of them, so many it's hard to keep track of them all. That's why it's good now and then to take inventory.

If we want to know our idols, we must think about our predominate thoughts for, as Jesus said, "where your treasure is, there your heart (i.e., your mind) will be also" (Matthew 6:21). Our last thought before we sleep, our first thought when we awaken, our reveries through the day are spent on the people and things we value the most. We fix on what we treasure and trust.[1]

Honesty requires that we admit our affections--the addictions that dominate our attention and control our actions. We can be "addicted to vodka or being nice," Brennan Manning suggested, "to marijuana or being loved; to cocaine or being right; to gambling or relationships; to golf or gossip." Our absorption can be food, fun, television, money, sex, power, performance, popularity, weight or winning--all good things in their own time and place--but when we give our ultimate devotion to anything other than God it--that very thing--has become an idol. "All that we love we worship," Richard Rolle said.[2]

Israel's prophets saw the incongruity of men and women made for God and for all eternity desperately trying to find happiness in a temporal and temporary thing. They thought it absurd and poked fun at the practice, ridiculing the god-forms that pagans erected and making up whimsical names for them: gillul (dung balls), they called them. Find happiness in some man-made object, designed for obsolescence? Gain endless satisfaction in some grandiose but ephemeral project? Discover infinite love in a finite lover? C'mon man, you've got to be kidding. Gillul, the prophets would say. There is no happiness there. Only bitterness and disappointment.

But "happy is the man or woman who makes the LORD his trust and does not turn aside to idols." Here again is happiness: we were made for God and only God will do.

So, how we do rid ourselves of our idols? Not be overpowering them and throwing them away, for they're much too strong for us. Freedom comes from seeking God with all our heart and abiding in his love. That's what loosens our grip on every idol and its tenacious grip on us. When God arrives the half-gods go, Emerson said.

So, dear children, be happy; "keep yourselves from idols" (1 John 5:21).


[1] Another way to know our idols is to reflect on our reaction when we don't get our "heart's desire." Do we become bitter or resentful? If so, we're looking to something other than God to make us happy.  

[2] Paul's argument in 1 Corinthians 10:6-14 is that Israel's idolatry consisted of craving something more than God had given (cp., Numbers 11:4-9).

David & Carolyn Roper
Idaho Mountain Ministries
2503 Bruins Circle

Boise, ID 83704
(208) 376-6607
(208) 634-4214 (Shepherd's Rest)

October 30, 2002