I’ve heard plenty of teaching on the subject of idolatry (most notably from Tim Keller, whose book on the subject – Counterfeit Gods – is worth a read). Paul tells us in Romans 1 how we turn from worshipping the real Creator God of the Universe to worshipping created things – idols:
For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened. Claiming to be wise, they became fools, and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and creeping things. Romans 1: 21-23
Today we do the same thing. Only the created things we worship instead of God are those things we think will bring us happiness and remove pain, things like the love of people, or power, or purpose, or money, or sex, or accomplishment, etc., etc.
But it’s a total waste to worship an idol. Cause idols can’t deliver, as the prophets Baal learned from Elijah. He had them prepare a bull to offer to Baal as a sacrifice and so that they could plea for rain:
So they took the bull given them and prepared it. Then they called on the name of Baal from morning till noon. “Baal, answer us!” they shouted. But there was no response; no one answered. And they danced around the altar they had made.
At noon Elijah began to taunt them. “Shout louder!” he said. “Surely he is a god! Perhaps he is deep in thought, or busy, or traveling. Maybe he is sleeping and must be awakened.” So they shouted louder and slashed themselves with swords and spears, as was their custom, until their blood flowed. Midday passed, and they continued their frantic prophesying until the time for the evening sacrifice. But there was no response, no one answered, no one paid attention. 1 Kings 18: 26-29
I love this passage! “No one answered, no one paid attention.” Why? Because Baal is no god. Baal is an idol. Baal is a figment of their imagination.
But look at the lengths these prophets went to get this unreal thing’s attention! They danced around. They went on day and night. They shouted. They cut themselves. They prophesied frantically.
That’s exactly what we do when we try to squeeze worth out of an idol. We work frantically to make more money. We dance around to get a man’s attention. We wind up with addictions and obsessions when things don’t deliver – so we work harder to find the elusive happiness or pain relief.
Idols are a waste.
And another of today’s readings says as much:
The idols of the nations are silver and gold,
the work of human hands.
They have mouths, but do not speak;
they have eyes, but do not see;
they have ears, but do not hear,
nor is there any breath in their mouths.
Those who make them become like them,
so do all who trust in them. Psalm 135:13-18
If we keep looking for happiness and love and worth in all the wrong places, we will never be satisfied. We are wasting our time.
Because only the God of the Universe is the true and real source of all life:
In him was life, and the life was the light of men. John 1: 4
And this is eternal life, that they know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent. John 17:3
All ultimate life and worth and joy and satisfaction comes from knowing God, having a deep intimate relationship with Him – and we waste our time and dishonor Him (frankly, we treasonously sin against Him) when we look to unreal idols to meet our needs.
They won’t answer. They won’t pay attention (and that’s what we really want from them – their attention that makes us feel worthwhile!).
Dear Lord: Since the flesh remains, I know I worship idols – often without realizing it. Please continue to show me when I try and get happiness or pain relief from someone or something other than You. Help me to find my satisfaction in You alone. Thank you. Amen.