Idolatry is the elevation of a created thing to be more important than the Creator. This occurs in a variety of ways. One of which is when the person looks to something as the source of what only God can give. Many think of idolatry as the religious practice of ancient peoples or tribal peoples still isolated from our modern world. The perception is that as cultures make scientific and technological advances they leave behind their superstitions. They stop giving offerings of beer and rice to the gods of the river. As they gain a better understanding of how nature works they gain control over nature and lose their fears.
This may be an accurate description of certain forms of idolatry, but it barely scratches the surface. Much of idolatry in western nations look nothing like stereotypical idolatry. With no prayers, no offerings (unless you count the purchase of tickets and paraphernalia) and no supernatural beings, modern idolatry does not look like a religious expression. If there is no overt religious ritual can something really be called an idol? What constitutes idolatry?
An idol is anything a person trusts as the ultimate provider of things which only God can give. God provides many gifts through intermediate means. The idolater treats the means as if they are the source. The idolater looks to the idol for security, a sense of belonging and an identity. For example, sports provide good recreation and entertainment. A sport goes from good to god when the person’s life revolves around the team, the players and the next game. When a win makes a day great and a loss is a great tragedy then the game has become a god.
As another example, being respected is a good thing, but it can quickly become an idol. If a person’s security or identity revolves around respect, then it is too important. If the loss of respect sends a person into a rage or a funk, then the person is worshiping the goddess of Respect. He shows by his response to the lack of respect that he is relying upon Respect to bring fulfillment, security, peace or significance instead of finding those things in God.
The problem of idolatry is that it trusts a creature for what only God can give. Idolatry treats the gifts of God as gods. It worships the middle man instead of the head honcho. True worship enjoys the gifts of God and praises God as the source of all good things. Psalm 23 is a supreme example of this. In that much loved Psalm David praises God for the things God gives. Arthur Clarke said the gifts of God described in Psalm 23 are, “Rest, Refreshment, Restoration, Rescue, Reassurance, Reception, Rejoicing and Residence.” Take note, each of the things David mentioned are common idols in our world today. But David does not make the gifts most important. He keeps His focus on the God who gives all good things.
One solution to idolatry is persistent praise to God for His good gifts. Acknowledge God’s good gifts and trust Him to continue to give you His blessings. Beware of trusting the intermediaries. God provides for your physical needs through steady employment, but your job is not the good shepherd who anoints you with an abundance of blessings. God is. Praise God. He is the Good Shepherd who gives all you need.