Idols and God’s Character

I’ve been thinking a lot about idols recently.  After all, there’s the stirring speech from Joshua 24 where Joshua is telling the people that they must choose what “god” they would serve.  Joshua kicks of this speech in verses 2-3 with:

Long ago your ancestors, including Terah the father of Abraham and Nahor, lived beyond the Euphrates River and worshipped other gods.  But I took your father Abraham from the land beyond the Euphrates and led him throughout Canaan and gave him many descendants.

Abram had a cultural heritage of idolatry.  His own father was an idol worshipper.  There were, in all likelihood idols in Abram’s life that he had to flee from.  In these verses we find that Abram didn’t just flee idolatry on his own.  We find that God “took your father Abraham from the land.”  God took Abraham away from those idols and caused those idols to die in his life.

We also have a cultural heritage of idolatry.  We’re surrounded by the worship of idols large and small.  We see the worship of money, power, prestige, education, fame, leisure, and more as we look around ourselves into our culture.

It’s a cultural heritage that Paul tells the Corinthian church to flee from in I Corinthians 10.  Why flee?  Because it’s all too easy to find ourselves sucked in.  It’s important not to to get sucked in and to flee from all appearance of idolatry.

What does idol worship say about God's character

I found myself recently convicted by a quote from John Ortberg’s All the Places to Go . . . How Will You Know?: God Has Placed before You an Open Door. What Will You Do?.  In this book Ortberg says:

The problem with idols from a biblical perspective is not simply that they get God’s name wrong, it’s that they get God’s character wrong.  Idols, from a Biblical perspective, offer power but do not demand what the Lord requires: ‘to act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God’ (Micah 6:8)

I’ve always placed a concern on idolatry as a worship in that I wouldn’t dream of getting the name of God wrong.  I would never imagine that I would bow to Zeus, Ra, etc.  I would never imagine that I would worship that God of another religion.

However, am I recreating God in my own image?

Am I distorting the scriptural truth about God?

Am I picturing him as too loving to demand a punishment for sin?

Am I giving thanks to God in “all things” or am I taking the credit for myself?

I find that my idols, all too often, are a way to soften scriptural truth.  Instead of accepting that the things that are in the scripture that I can’t reconcile are too complex my mine to comprehend, I look for ways to harmonize them.  I look for ways to reduce God and the Bible to a something I can control.

When I can control something, when I can completely “work it out” to my advantage, then I am in the one who is being god.

I cannot look for ways to make God like me because He clearly tells us in Isaiah 55:8:

For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, saith the LORD.

He’s not a God I can control.  He’s not a God I can contain.  He’s not even a God that I can always understand.  To be honest, that frightens me a little.  I like things I can control.

However, in my need for control, I don’t want to try and play god or to play games with God.  I must instead trust in God (even when it’s hard!!), and only then can I let go of my idol of control and my idol of needing to make God fit into my boxes and categories.

It’s a day-by-day, and sometimes minute-by-minute process for this control freak, but to truly worship God “in spirit and in truth,” it’s a journey that’s worth every minute.


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