The Bible is very adamant on its view that idolatry is an aberration and to be avoided at all cost. And while the Bible is adamant in its denunciation of idolatry, it may not be clear why. What is so wrong about people worshipping their own gods, their own ideas, their own feelings? Why must we go to such extremes to condemn idolatry?
One of the major premises in the book of Genesis is that Yahweh God created the world and designed it with a purpose. The earth was not a mistake, or a chaotic mess, or an afterthought when the gods got tired, but it was created with a purpose, with a function, with a plan. In the Ancient Near East many different myths abounded as to how the world was created. One of the most famous was the Ancient Babylonian myth The Enuma Elish in which the god Marduk defeats another god Tiamat and creates the universe out of her dead body. Marduk is proclaimed king of all of the gods and creates humanity to serve his needs. It is an epic story about warfare, and chaos, and the world being an afterthought or just something for the gods to do to pass the time. Many of these creation myths abounded and while they differed on many details, they agreed on the fact that there was no real purpose to creation.
The Bible, however, proclaims a different story. Yahweh God created the heavens and the earth and there was purpose and there was meaning. God gave functions to all that he made; the stars, the earth, the creatures. God even elevated humanity by not creating them to serve his needs but by creating them to be his image bearers, to represent him and to fulfill his purposes on the earth, to have dominion over and to subdue the earth. This creates two distinct categories, God the creator and everything else the creation. God alone is creator, he is in charge, he alone is to be worshipped. God sets the parameters for how life should be lived because he alone designed it.
That’s the way the world was run, God in charge and everything else giving allegiance to God, until sin entered the picture. When Adam and Eve ate of the fruit in the Garden the Serpent told them that their eyes would be opened and they would be like God knowing good and evil. When sin became a reality a fundamental change took place. Adam and Eve, the creation, were now making decisions as if they were the creator. Not only did Adam and Eve recognize good and evil but they were now making decisions as to what constituted good and evil. Adam and Eve were assuming the role of moral authority. No longer did moral authority reside in God alone, in the Creator who had made all things. Moral authority now resided in the creation and the creation was determining right and wrong. The creation was now more important than the creator.
That’s what makes idolatry so wrong. At its core idolatry is a rejection of God’s goodness and God’s authority. Idolatry is putting something that is creation in the place of the creator. Idolatry is worshipping not the source of all life but something that was created. Idolatry is a declaration that the creation can determine what is worthy of its adoration. It leads to a life in which the distinctions between creator and creation get blurred to such a degree that one can no longer determine what is actually of God, and what is of man. Christopher Wright is his book The Mission of God describes the issue in this way:
“Idolatry dethrones God and enthrones creation. Idolatry is the attempt to limit, reduce and control God by refusing his authority, constraining or manipulating his power to act, having him available to serve our interests. At the same time, paradoxically, idolatry exalts things within the created order (whether natural objects in the heavens or on the earth, or created spirits, or the products of our own hands or imagination). Creation is then credited with a potency that belongs only to God; it is sacralized, worshiped, and treated as that from which ultimate meaning can be derived. A great reversal happens: God, who should be worshipped, becomes an object to be used; creation, which is for our use and blessing, becomes the object of our worship.”
Idolatry is wrong, not because God is jealous and alone wants our praise and adoration, but because idolatry promotes an environment in which the creation becomes more important than the creator. Idolatry is a recognition that Yahweh God is no longer the moral authority and decider of all that is right and good. Instead we, the creation, become the moral authority. We get to decide what is right and wrong. We get to make the decisions and chose what to worship. And when we do we trivialize God and exalt ourselves. That is why the Bible is so adamant about idolatry being wrong. And that is why we today must be just as adamantly opposed to idolatry, to condemn it in all of its forms and manifestations, and to vow to worship Yahweh God and him alone.