It feels like I update my blog less and less frequently nowadays…I think I’m sort of fiddling with what I want it to be; do I want my posts to be carefully crafted and semi-polished writing, or would I be content just having a more free-write style where I have an idea and just start typing, without giving much regard to structure and organization and grammar? More recently I think I’ve been trying to improve the quality of writing – if that wasn’t apparent, then I guess that totally failed. The reason behind this is that polished writing has the potential be extremely and succinctly effective. The downside is that it takes much longer for me to churn out an entry, in addition to possibly sacrificing personality and natural style if my attempt at good writing becomes too strained and forced. I guess the ideal scenario is to be such a good and fluid writer that even if I just start typing out random thoughts, it turns out well-written, clear, concise, and apt. I guess that will just have to come with practice though. The rest of this post will pretty much be “type-once-and-publish-and-proofread-for-typos.”
Anyways, onto the actual purpose/topic of this post – idolatry. I think we all have a pretty standard definition of what idolatry is, and maybe it’s something along the lines of “admiring or loving anything more than God.” We say that an idol is “anything that comes before God” in terms of importance and priority. These definitions are good and generally correct, but lately I’ve been thinking that they might be too loose. From the Bible, the definitions should be stricter.
I have not spent time actually researching idolatry, but what I mean is this: if God is the most important thing in our lives relative to everything else, does that mean we have no idols? I believe the answer is “No.”
One reason why the answer is “no” came from the story of Daniel’s three friends not bowing down to King Nebuchadnezzar’s image of gold. I was preparing this story for my RE practicum and was learning a lot myself. At one point during my preparation, I asked the question, “What if Daniel’s three friends did bow down? What might have been their thoughts?” I think that if they did bow down, in their hearts they wouldn’t have really been worshiping the image; they wouldn’t have decided right then and there to just ditch the Lord as their God and start wholeheartedly worshiping idols. Perhaps they might have rationalized, “I know God is the true God, and He knows that I don’t think this image is anything. It should be okay to bow down; it doesn’t mean anything, really. I just don’t want to draw attention to myself.”
But Daniel’s three friends refused to bow, period. Why is it so wrong to bow even when we don’t really mean it, especially when the alternative is to get thrown into a fiery furnace? Let’s revisit the second commandment (Exodus 20:4-5).
You shall not make for yourself a carved image – any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth; you shall not bow down to them nor serve them. For I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God…
Like all the other commandments, if we keep the spirit of the law, we inherently keep the letter of it (this applies to Sabbath too). Thus, idolatry is not just having something that is more important than God “in our hearts”; it also includes the mere act of bowing, of entertaining anything that we know is not really right and can invoke the jealousy of God. I used to use addiction as a metric to gauge myself, meaning that as long as I wasn’t addicted to something, it was okay; it wasn’t idolatry. But now I realize that is incorrect. Idolatry is not just defined by the degree to which we desire or “worship” something other than God; it’s also defined by the thing which we desire or worship itself.
It goes back to the jealousy of God. Idolatry is spiritual adultery; it’s anything that causes jealousy in our relationship with God. Let’s imagine a husband and wife. If the wife went around being even remotely intimate with other men, has she not already invoked the jealousy of her husband? Can the wife tell her husband, “Don’t worry; I love you the most – you’re still the most important man in my life”? Would that alleviate the husband’s jealousy at all? I would think certainly not! It’s similar to when Jesus said we cannot serve two masters; if we try, we’ll inevitably end up hating one and loving the other.
But another question arises – we might ask, “What about school? Or career? Or family? Don’t those things also compete with God for our time and attention and care?” I haven’t thought this through too much, but I think that these are all neutral things, and if our attitude is correct, they will not invoke any jealousy. If in all these things we act with the mentality that we do all things for God and for His glory, in the end we’re still serving only God. But if we want to advance our career for personal gain and benefit, then that could be a problem, especially if we don’t enforce a balance.
In my opinion, there are many things in the world that are neutral and even more things that are bad. I think when it comes to the things that are neutral, then we only need to make sure our priorities remain set and our attitude is pure. For example, making money is perfectly fine, but working on Sabbath is wrong.
But when it comes to the things that are bad, then we shouldn’t have any part with them at all. It doesn’t matter how infrequent or how little – even if God is still number one in our hearts and minds, if we bow at all, we’ve sinned against God. To me this applies to a lot of ubiquitous activities that even other Christians and church members participate in – listening to certain songs, watching certain movies and TV shows, playing certain games, looking at or reading certain magazines and books. Maybe a song, movie, game, or book only has one curse word or one passionate scene and we think it’s okay because it’s “negligible” or because we only listen/watch once in awhile. But if it’s wrong in God’s eyes, any quantity or amount is detestable.
I only mention media-related things because that’s what’s most applicable to me. It may be something completely different for others, but the spiritual principle is the same. Don’t fall into the illusion of thinking something isn’t idolatry unless we’re addicted to it. If something is wrong in the eyes of God, don’t even bow down to it once. Rather, be truly faithful like Daniel’s three friends.
Oh yeah…forgot to mention in the beginning; polished writing also tends to be shorter. Congrats for making it all the way down here!