When God becomes an idol

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It seems that the constant struggle of idolatry in the Old Testament is a concept that is lost on modern society. A modern culture that has advanced so much in knowledge and technology that the idea of bowing down to a graven image made of wood or stone seems impractical and foolish.

We even see righteous men and women of the Bible struggling with idols. Rachel stole the idols of Laban (Gen 31:32). Gideon had to destroy the family idols (Judges 6:25). Michal used an idol to help David escape (1 Samuel 19:13). Not to mention the countless times Israel got in trouble with turning to idols instead of the living God! It is no wonder that the first two commandments God gave Israel was to have no other gods before Him and to not make any idols to be worshipped.

Also, in the New Testament idols are addressed including the very direct command “flee from idolatry (1 Cor. 10:14). Most of us know that today an idol is anything we place above God in our hearts. Idols can be anything from family, marriages, jobs, celebrities, hobbies, mentors, government officials, food, entertainment, and much more.
The purpose of this blog is not to discuss the forms of current idolatry, but to examine what happens to the Christian who treats God Almighty as an idol. What does that even mean to do so?

Let’s look at 1 Samuel 4…

The Israelites faced a defeat from the Philistines in battle. When they returned to battle the elders of Israel asked, “Why did the Lord bring defeat on us today before the Philistines? Let us bring the ark of the Lord’s covenant to Shiloh, so that he may go with us and save us from the hand of our enemies” (v3). The Philistines were terrified! Here was the ark, representing God who had defeated their ancestors and defeated the Egyptians. The Philistines fought anyway and captured the ark! 30,000 Israelites died including the Priest Eli’s two sons, Hophni and Phinehas.

What gives? Why didn’t this symbol of God’s power work in battle? This worked for Joshua. How could God allow the Israelites to experience a staggering defeat at the hands of their enemy?

Previous chapters give us a glimpse into the spiritual state of Israel at the time. Eli, the high priest, did not properly control the actions of his sons who defiled sacrifices and blasphemed God. This was the first prophecy that Samuel received from God, forecasting their destruction. The death of Eli’s sons, and the death of Eli upon hearing the news, was a direct result of their lack of reverence for God and abandonment of their holy responsibility as priests.

Eli and his sons were going through the motions though, they didn’t completely abandon their faith. They did perform sacrifices and maintained the semblance of holiness up until the point of their deaths. They tried to copy previous generations’ faith and holiness without having any of their own.

Contrast the example from a previous generation found in Judges 20:26-28 (NIV)
26 Then all the Israelites, the whole army, went up to Bethel, and there they sat weeping before the LORD. They fasted that day until evening and presented burnt offerings and fellowship offerings to the LORD. 27 And the Israelites inquired of the LORD. (In those days the ark of the covenant of God was there, 28 with Phinehas son of Eleazar, the son of Aaron, ministering before it.) They asked, “Shall we go up again to fight against the Benjamites, our fellow Israelites, or not?” The LORD responded, “Go, for tomorrow I will give them into your hands.”

They inquired of the Lord. They wept, fasted, gave sacrifices before the Lord and He answered with victory. A stark difference to Eli’s sons who did not inquire of the Lord. The elders of Israel thought it sounded like a good idea to bring the ark to battle. They simply brough the ark of the covenant along for the ride. It was used as a trinket, as a good luck charm, as an idol. As a result, the ark was in captivity and then displaced for years until David finally brought it to Jerusalem.

I like this definition of an idol from Webster, “a mere image or semblance of something, visible but without substance, as a phantom.”

The ark was visible to the enemy that day that Israel lost in battle. The enemy knew to fear God, knew of His past victories, but there was no power. No blessing. No anointing. The enemy was just as surprised as Israel that they won.

God won’t be dragged into our battles that He never told us to fight. God won’t bow to our will when we need Him when we’ve spent the rest of our lives giving Him lip service and blaspheming Him. What worked in the past may not work in the future because God is not a formula, He’s not a riddle to solve, He’s not a means to an end.

Again, I like the definition of idol as a semblance of something without substance. Too many Christians today have a semblance of faith but there is little if any substance, no personal relationship with Jesus, no commitment to holiness at the expense of personal wants.

I’m afraid many have made God an idol in their life.

Now these Christians don’t blatantly curse God and leave the faith. They still go through the motions. They show up on Sunday, well not every Sunday. They aren’t in community with other Christians. They rarely read their Bible or when they do it’s because they are looking for answers to an urgent problem. They may wear a Christian t-shirt or have a fish on their car. They may say they are a Christian on their social media profiles and vigorously “defend” God in Facebook comments. Yet they rarely pray except when they need something. And they wonder where the God of their ancestors is, why they are losing battles, why life is SO hard.

If you read that and thought “oh good that’s not me,” be careful friend. God can be considered an idol on many more levels than I can state in this article. You may work full time in ministry but have no relationship personally with Jesus like you used to, you’re just too busy serving Him. You are burning out, giving in to anger, rage, lust, or a litany of sins and vices. But you would NEVER abandon God, you just don’t inquire of Him anymore. Your heart of flesh has turned to stone. You don’t even weep over the lost or the broken, deep down you find them a nuisance. The Holy Spirit doesn’t move you to tears in His presence anymore. You are the walking dead- a Christian in name only.

The sons of Sceva in Acts 19:14 tried this as well. They thought God was a formula and tried to cast out demons much to their shock when the demons wouldn’t obey and beat them up. Simon in Acts 8:18 tried to buy the Holy Spirit with money.

God can’t be copied, He can’t be bought, He must be worshipped as Lord and a relationship with Him cultivated. Imagine if you, a newlywed, saw a couple who were married 50 years and still in love and you determined to have that type of deep, intimate relationship tomorrow! You might get some wisdom from them and learn some lessons, but to have that level of intimacy with one person requires the same daily commitment over time… day after day after day. Through the struggles, through the loss and grief, joy, triumph, and dedication, that couple knows of a mature love that one cannot rush into finding. The same is true of our relationship with Jesus.

Jesus is not a trinket to be found, as if once we “have” Him, we put Him away until we need Him. He isn’t a good luck charm that we can now identify with when it becomes beneficial to our social status. He is not a “get out of hell free card.” We are talking about the King of Kings and the Lord of Lords. We bow to His will, not the other way around.

Let’s not forget Ephesians 6. We are in a spiritual battle. We are called to put on the armor of God daily. It might feel like we lose a battle once in a while, that life hits us hard, but the difference is that God will never leave you or forsake you and He sticks closer than a brother.

We can make our plans and ask God to bless them but that is backwards. “In their hearts humans plan their course, but the Lord establishes their steps” Proverbs 16:9. We need God daily, we need Him intimately. We are satisfied but always hungry when we meet with Him because we know there’s more. We should never get to the point where we’ve stopped pursuing more. Some Christians need to move from head knowledge further down to their heart.

He is worth pursuing. Your heart longs for more of Jesus. Don’t sit by and make your plans and ask God to bless them. Dive into the Word daily. Pray like you never have before. Don’t fill the need of your soul with frivolous activities with no eternal significance. Let your heart be softened and tenderized by your Heavenly Father, the desire of the nations, the only hope for this world. Amen.

Tim Ferrara

Discerning Dad discerning-dad.com

Check out my three books on Amazon including the newest one, a men’s devotional collaboration that I was a part of.  Click here 

The views and opinions expressed by Kingdom Winds Collective Members, authors, and contributors are their own and do not represent the views of Kingdom Winds LLC.

About the Author

Tim Ferrara, Founder of Discerning Dad (www.discerning-dad.com). Background in the church all my life. 20+ years of management experience. Current Executive Pastor of LifePoint Church in San Tan Valley. Author of Everyday Discernment and Eyes on Jesus. Host of the Eyes on Jesus Podcast

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