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MAGNIFIED: Modern Idolatry
You probably didn’t bow down to a golden statue this morning. So is idolatry a thing of the past?
Micah: Idolatry was pretty easy to spot thousands of years ago. Bathing under a fountain of cow blood so Fortuna will bring your profit margins into the black. Idolatry. Pouring out liberations to honor Hades and the tenets of the underworld.
Man 1: This goes out to all our fallen homies, yo.
Man 2: Hey, yo, real talk.
Man 1: All right.
Micah: Idolatry. But I personally don't make a habit of committing human sacrifices for extra fresh corn these days, and I'm willing to bet you don't either. So are we incapable of committing idolatry in our modern world?
Now, the Bible was written in a time when theism was the culture. It was common practice to pay tribute to your higher power with all sorts of rituals. And of course, there are still cultures today that revere foreign gods. Foreign gods, meaning any god other than the creator.
But just for today, we're going to examine idolatry one layer deeper and look at some of the ways Christians in the increasingly secular western world might more commonly encounter idolatry. First of all, let's just refresh our definition of idolatry itself. The first two of the 10 Commandments really define the sin pretty thoroughly, "You shall have no other gods before me," and "you shall not make for yourself a carved image or any likeness of anything." Fairly straightforward.
Now, here's something cool about the 10 Commandments. They are 10 simple rules that act like little gateways into the mind of God. God commands some kind of behavior, and then by following that command we learn why it is righteous. You shall not murder is the gateway to love your enemy. We go from what to why. And the why is an invaluable insight into the way that God thinks.
Moses actor: There is no freedom without the law.
Micah: Starting off with the first commandment, the what here is simple. God does not want us to have any gods that aren't Him. But what's the why? It's because at the end of the day, God wants us to learn to think like Him.
Think of it kind of like marriage. There are certain things you only do in a marriage, and that's what makes marriage so special, that's what deepens your relationship with your spouse. In time, you become so close that you start thinking like each other and talking like each other, you become one flesh. And that's really the name of the game, to build a deep relationship with God and learn the mind of God. And the ways of foreign gods directly conflict with God's perfect mind.
Here's an example. There's a ritual the communities in ancient Greece performed called pharmākos. At least once a year, they slaughtered a criminal, a slave, or a cripple as a scapegoat for all current and possible disasters. The problem with pharmākos was not only the murder but that it warped people's ability to relate to a higher power in a loving way. Greeks offered up a human being as a bribe to protect them from the wrath of Zeus and other gods. The gods of the ancient world were worshiped by appeasement, which was reflective of the relationship between kings and their subjects.
But that's not the relationship God wants to build with humankind. The second commandment follows the first pretty directly. God told us which symbols and rituals are important for us as Christians. Like the bread and the wine, and can you guess what dwelling on those signs and symbols does? It deepens our understanding of God. It helps us see what's important to Him. This isn't to say that you have to take down that picture of a well-dressed rooster or your Ron Swanson Funko Pop.
Ron: So beautiful.
Micah: It's about what those images mean to us and whether or not they're replacing something that we should be getting from God or giving to Him. Back to the example of marriage. Some things only belong in that relationship. Sex is an obvious one, but it's not the only way we can be unfaithful. For example, have you ever heard of an emotional affair? It's a friendship with someone other than your spouse that takes on the emotional intimacy of marriage even though you never cross the line into physically acting on it.
Of course, it's not wrong to have friends, but it becomes wrong when the closeness that belongs to your spouse is given to someone else. So how can we know when we're neglecting our relationship with God? Well, we need to know which parts of our relationship belong only to God. Let's look at a few of them.
We get purpose by learning God's mind and walking by His truth, which drives our lives forward. We get peace because God's love and promises to us are our ultimate peace. He stands for us when everything around us is falling and when those we trust fail us. We get hope when our personal lives take a left turn and the world is a mess. Setting our mind on God and learning his wisdom will help us find our way through the chaos. And we also get transformation. We start learning the day that we're born and we transform by default, but we want to be sure God is transforming us into what He wants us to be by bringing every thought into captivity and examining them through God's lens.
Now, let's look at some of the gives. We give loyalty to God by obeying his commandments and keeping his commanded holy days, no matter the cost. We trust that God's wisdom will prevail even against our biggest struggles. Sometimes we give them over to Him entirely. We worship God as the highest of all beings, bowing only to Him as our steadfast and benevolent father.
So we may not be bowing to stone carvings of gods that promise us pleasure and abundance and safety, but if we're going somewhere other than God to get those things, we're doing the exact same thing those people were doing thousands of years ago.
God wants us to have abundant lives filled with family and friends, work, and joy, and He wants us to learn His mind, to write His truth on our hearts so that we can take it with us into all of those places. Idolatry directly sabotages our ability to do that. That's why we need to keep uncovering the parts of our lives that belong only to God and make sure that we don't give them away to anyone else.