The Case for Idols

By Michael Bennie

Last Monday, biblical Rachel and I bonded around the idols we’ve both stolen from Daddy and stashed in our saddlebag, hidden. What might open up if we unhid them?

As a kid, I thought the “no idols” rule was the bunny slope of commandment-keeping. Easy peesy. Who makes graven images for worship? I smirked, smug in my 1980s tween enlightenment.

Now it feels more like black diamond–slippery, vertical, with a strong gravitational pull.

Cambridge Dictionary defines idol as “an object or picture that is worshipped as a god.” Mentally, I’ve got these all over the place–people’s approval, laughter at my jokes, children the village admires, productivity, prosperity, you commenting on this blog (please?). I picture these things, ogle them like a porn consumer, worship them with time, effort and attention. I objectify a part of the divine flow and put it in my pantheon of wanna-be gods.

Why? What payoffs do I score by substituting a picture or object for Authentic, Great God? Three guesses:

  • Control. Who doesn’t want the remote? Idols sustain the illusion that I’m calling the shots.
  • Certainty. Immortal, invisible God is hard to wrap my three-and-a-half pounds of brain around. Idols clarify and simplify–or claim to.
  • Escape. In reality, the image of God is looking back at me in the mirror, and from behind the cardboard sign on the offramp. A little scary–so I flee and fashion something more manageable, to the work of my hands instead of the Worker on my heart. (Rabbi David Wolpe says this much better here.)

And then there are costs.

  • Control-worship costs me surrender, peace, love.
  • Singing praise songs to Certainty robs me of wonder, mystery, faith.
  • The cult of Escape robs me of the reality of divine presence right here, right now, closer than my skin, more present than my breath.

Clearly, biblical Rachel and I are not the only ones hiding idols. For logical reasons and juicy payoffs, our species has been choosing images over imago dei for millennia. Got some in your bag? I dare you to open it up for a minute and ask yourself:

  1. What is one idol I have been worshipping? (with time, attention, worry, resources)
  2. What payoffs has this idol given me? (control, certainty, escape, or many others…)
  3. What has it cost me?

Do the math. Have a good laugh at yourself and this thing you’ve worshipped up until now. And choose.