We don’t often talk about idolatry in the Church these days; and, when we do, we often miss important nuances. I’m sure that most people already realize that money can be an idol, and that the never-ending quest for more money can consume large portions of our time and energy. The Church continues to teach people that materialism is a great distraction to spiritual growth and development, and that greed (accompanied by pride, lust, envy, gluttony, wrath and sloth) is one of the seven deadly sins. But, idolatry is far more complicated than that. Martin Luther, a German reformer, once wrote: “To have a ‘god’ is nothing else than to trust and believe in that one with your whole heart.”
I’ve lived with many idols. I created my first idol when I began to picture God as an old man with a long white beard who sits on a great, big throne in the sky—almost like the Greeks pictured Zeus. That image still resides in my thinking. I created another idol (in childhood) when I began to picture God as a God who’s always watching me—almost like the “Elf on a Shelf” that people put in their homes at Christmas. And I must confess that there’s a part of me that worries about the fact that God’s hard at work—recording every time I fail in a great, big book. Another idol that I’ve created clearly blurs the line between God and Santa Claus—once again, an old man with a long white beard who is supposed to give good things to good people and bad things to bad people. One of the most harmful idols that I’ve created is the idol that constantly tries to convince me that I am God, and that I have the “right” to impose my own rules and preferences upon the lives of other people. This last, most harmful idol always tries to convince me that I have the right to decide who God loves and who God doesn’t love—and one of the things that I’ve noticed about this idol is that it always tries to convince me that the sins that other people commit are more serious than the sins I commit.
The love and embrace of Jesus challenges us to think about God in deeper and in more profound ways. In fact, if we ever want to move beyond our own self-created idols and discover the true heart of God, we need to look toward Jesus Christ—God in the flesh. Jesus extends God’s love to the poor, and offers God’s embrace to people that society rejects. Jesus offers forgiveness to people who hurt and disappoint us, and Jesus calls us on the carpet when we begin to believe that the sins in other people’s lives are more serious than the sins in our own lives. Jesus helps us to think more clearly about our lives and priorities when He challenges us to love God with all of our heart and mind and spirit—and to love other people in the way that we want to be loved. Jesus tells us that He’s always with us; and, when He says that, He challenges us to look for Him in the people that we meet at work, on a bus, in worship, in grocery stores, in our homes, on the street, in the women’s shelter, at the food pantry, and even on the Internet.
Now it’s your turn to join the conversation
What do you trust and believe in more than anything else? What are your idols?
How has your image of God been shaped by your own ideals and preferences—and how has your image of God encouraged you to impose your own ideals and preferences on the lives of others?
How has your image of God changed as you’ve lived and experienced more of life?
God clearly commanded: “You shall not make an idol or any likeness of what is in Heaven.” (Exodus 20:4). How does what you know about the life and ministry of Jesus shape your understanding of God, and of God’s plan for your life?