Defining idolatry

Published 1:26 pm Saturday, March 24, 2018

by Rev. William H. Sloan

What does God mean when He instructs the faithful not to craft or worship idols? Moreover, why do humans craft idols inwardly and outwardly? The Hebrew priests and followers of the Lord Jesus were equally antagonistic or displeased with humanity for crafting and worshiping idols. The Israelite tribes, Paul and Titus targeted the crafting of metal and wooden idols, statues of Baal and shrines at Corinth as examples.

The problem of idolatry was an outward manifestation of an inward problem. The building and worship of idols was a byproduct of sin and effectively a misuse of intellectual and physical energy, which should have been utilized to glorify the Godhead.

Idolatry has not diminished and is as prevalent now as it was during the eras of Gideon, Daniel and Stephen, who all warned against it. Effectively, humans have the instinct to worship or prioritize something, an instinct created by the Father, but that instinct, when separate from the Living God, will inevitably manifest itself as idolatry. That said, the fallen instinct to craft and worship idols when regenerated by the Lord Jesus becomes a useful and well-ordered entity of the human mind.

The term idol is utilized 160 times in the Old and New testaments, the consistent teaching is that the Father does not permit the faithful to craft idols within themselves or without. The Living God calls the development of idols abandonment from Him the initial and primal source of all.

For example, Jonah maintains that humans who worship and manufacture vain idols forsake their requisite loyalty to the Father (Jonah 2:8 NRSV.) Similarly, Habakkuk writes that an idol will harbor lies for those who craft them (Habakkuk 2:18 NRSV.) Moreover, Jeremiah warns the faithful that idols are empty objects (i.e., scarecrows in a cucumber field) that are not products of the Father’s knowledge (Jeremiah 10:5 NRSV.) Similarly, Paul warns the Corinthians to flee idolatrous conduct as it does not benefit their perseverance in Christ (1 Corinthians 10:7 NRSV.) In effect, Scripture is eternally clear about the sin of idolatry.

For additional reading about idolatry see Exodus 34:17; Leviticus 26:1-30; Deuteronomy 4:16-23: Judges 17:3-5; Judges 18:14-31; Acts 17:16; 1 Corinthians 8:4-7; 1 Corinthians 12:2; 2 Corinthians 12:2; Galatians 5:20; Ephesians 5:5; 1 Peter 4:3; and 1 John 5:21.

When not ordered Biblically and submissive to the Godhead, the human mind will create idols outwardly and inwardly. All humans are equally fallen and will endeavor to misappropriate their instinct to honor the Godhead. That said, Christ our priest will convict humanity of this error, execute reform and grant Biblical guidance.

As a philosophical example, consider a man who enjoys being a father, husband, and provider, but fails to thank the Living God for his family and these pious instincts. The man, by not recognizing the Father as the initial source of his family and vocation, will invariably idolize his family and self. This will occur because the man is designed to honor and labor for the Godhead, the creator and redeemer of his awesome family.

Also, interpret the example of a man and woman who enjoy hiking. Observing the mountains, valleys, and many species is recreationally important for them. They execute research that explains the development of mountains over time, but reject the initial cause of them, who is the Father or first principle of all. The recreation the couple completes is misappropriated and they craft idols within themselves wrongly fueled by the sinful behavior of turning from the Living God. As said, the instinct to honor and submit to God is disordered and utilized improperly when separate from Christ the Redeemer.

Additionally, idols — because they are essentially empty — will be filled with falsity, separate from the Sovereign God. As said, Paul recognized this vice in Corinth which was home to upward of 20 shrines or idols. The efforts of the Corinthians to construct these idols rendered empty figures that were inevitably filled with false understandings of the Father and the universe He authors.

In sum, humanity is designed to honor and labor for the Living God, who is Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Idolatry is a misdirected concentration of energy that does not render honor and duty to Him. Scripture is consistent about the sin of idolatry.

The REV. WILL SLOAN is the minister at Grace Memorial United Methodist Church in Sedley.