God always provides us with openings to escape from idolatry. He makes sure worship of false gods is unsatisfying. God ensures that it never actually gives us what it promises. Our idols always fail us. He does so not because He is threatened by idols but out of love and mercy for us. He tears down our monuments because they are bad for us not because they are bad for Him.
The next step is up to us. When our idols have been exposed as empty or torn down, are we willing to turn from them? Many aren’t even as their idol lies shattered before them. They wind up expending great effort putting their “god” back together.
An idol is something or someone that we put in the place that is rightfully God’s. Idols come in many forms.
If we get our affirmation, our feeling of self-worth from something that is not God we may be committing idolatry. If we seek power or inclusion through something or someone to the exclusion of God, we may be committing idolatry. Many of the things we make into idols are not bad in themselves. It is the attention and worship we give them that is the problem.
So our children are wonderful things and a blessing from the Lord, but if we serve them and follow them to the exclusion of God, we have obviously lost our way. Sports can be great exercise or fun entertainment, but if we get our sense of well being or inclusion from watching the local football team then something is wrong. Our jobs are great and we should work hard at whatever we do, but if a career is the center of our lives…ding, ding, ding…idolatry.
But an interesting thing happens with idols. No matter how much we crave them, no matter how wonderful we think they are, they will always disappoint us. They will never fulfill us. The best we can hope for is momentarily dulling of the ache of whatever need we are trying to fill with the idol.
Since an idol stands in for God in our lives it can never be truly satisfying. There is only one God. No drugs, alcohol, money or false gods can ever come close to taking His place. Everything else is just a poor substitute. Part of us always knows this is true so we wind up perpetually disappointed with our idol even while we enslave ourselves to it. This disappointment is part of God’s call to us.
God so loved the world that He sent Jesus to die for us. This kind of love is not content to see us waste our lives on empty slavery. His desire is to see us free from the prisons that we build for ourselves.
So He always gives us opportunities for escape. God pulls down the idols in our lives to give us a chance to run away from them and to Him. He exposes the emptiness of our false set of worship. It might be in the pain of a hangover, the emptiness of trying to keep up with the Jones’ or a person we admire way too much being exposed as a fraud or criminal, there is always exposure of idols. It often involves pain because our idolatry runs deep in us.
This exposure is a wonderful act of mercy on God’s part. He loves us so much He is trying to set us free. But even though it is done out of love it might hurt. If we are really far gone, it might hurt a lot. A physician sometimes needs to cause pain to free us from the disease that is killing us.
The question then is what we do in response. When something bad happens to the idols in our life the issue becomes whether we are willing to go free. Jesus came to set the captives free. He declared it Himself in fulfillment of Isaiah yet many people are happy in their prison. God tears down idols exposing them to be evil, empty and unsatisfying and people fight with all their might to build them right back up.
A great example of this process is contained in the Book of First Samuel. In the early part of the book, the Israelites are defeated by the Philistines in battle and lose 4,000 men. Israel’s might as a country in the Bible is always related to their spiritual condition. When they are following God they cannot be defeated. When they are relying upon themselves and their army, they are often defeated. So the loss of 4,000 men in a battle to the enemies of God is a clear sign that they are not in a good place with God. They are really lost in pride, arrogance and self-sufficiency and they don’t seem to realize it. They have made their identity as Israelites and national pride into an idol.
Rather than repenting and working this out with God, they come up with a scheme to force God’s hand. God is speaking to them through their defeat, yet they don’t hear Him. They just come up with a new plan rooted in their sin. It centers around the Ark of the Covenant, the symbol of God dwelling with them as a nation.
The Israelites must have seen Raiders of the Lost Ark because they trot out the Ark as a sort of super weapon before them. They believe that it has superpowers that guarantee that they cannot lose a battle. “If we have this gold plated box before us God must make us win even if we are not following Him” seems to be the rationale. They forget that it is actually just a symbol and it is God that makes the Ark special.
They make the symbol of God into their god rather than the God who gave them the symbol.
So God allows the Israelites to see the emptiness of their plans. He reminds that the Ark is just a pretty box without Him. Despite the Ark going before them, they are again defeated handily in battle. In the process, the Ark falls into the hands of their mortal enemies, the dreaded Philistines.
It is a terrible moment in Israel’s history but it is also a moment of great mercy and grace from God.
The Israelites are lost in their national identity and have turned a gold covered box into an idol. Something that stands in the place of God and to which they go for affirmation and power. When things get tough, they turn to their status as Israelites and the Ark to save them rather than the God who made them. Their pride and sin lead them greatly astray but God doesn’t just leave them there.
God allows them to be defeated for a clear purpose. He wants them to see how wrong their spiritual lives are in the humiliation. They are relying upon the Ark rather so God allows the enemies of God tear the Ark from their hands. God frees them from the clutches of their sin in the process.
The same thing happens to us with the things that we put our hope on.
When we attach way too much attention to a person who is not preaching Jesus, it is at the time of that person’s inevitable failure that we are free to turn back to God.
When we are imprisoned by addiction, it is in the dark hours of hangovers and withdrawal that we are clearly called back to God.
When stars in Hollywood or entertainment have captivated us in an unhealthy way, it is when their sins and pride are put on display that we are sober up and really evaluate what we are doing.
Even in church, when false teacher’s sins and ugliness are put on display through financial scandals and sex scandals, this is often when the truth is offered to those who are willing to listen.
WHY AM I FOLLOWING THIS PERSON OR THING? We cry out.
At this point, when the weakness of the idol is open and clear for all to see the next step is up to us. Are we willing to admit that our idol is fallen? Do we accept the freedom that God has provided for us?
Or do we fight to protect them?
God tears down every idol for us. He destroys the pretensions of those who oppose Him. He ensures that idols are exposed for what they are – just fake gods that do nothing for us in the end.
Are we willing to run away from them?